published Sunday, August 25th, 2013

Atlanta woman dies in Ocoee rafting accident

  • photo
    Rafters take to the Ocoee River rapids in Polk County in this file photo.
    Photo by Tracey Trumbull /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

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An Atlanta woman died Saturday on the Ocoee River while rafting with a group, and TVA is looking at the river's flow and height at the time. TVA controls how much water goes into the Ocoee River with three dams, Ocoee 1 Dam, Ocoee 2 Dam and Ocoee 3 Dam.

According to a Polk County Sheriff's Office news release, the Atlanta woman, whose identity was not released, was rafting with family and friends below the Ocoee 2 Dam when the party's boat came upon a set of rapids called "Grumpy's." Two women were thrown overboard, but one was pulled back into the raft.

The other was tossed a rescue rope bag and reportedly grabbed the rope but then lost conciousness. She was brought ashore downstream and pronounced dead when emergency crews arrived around 11:30 a.m.

According to TVA's website, at 11 a.m. Sunday, 30 minutes before the incident, the Ocoee 2 Dam was discharging 3,245 cubic feet per second into the waterway. The dam was operating two generators. It was the first time since 7 a.m. Thursday that discharge broke 3,000 cfs, according to TVA.org.

Tennessee Valley Authority spokesman Scott Brooks said the river flow was higher than normal Saturday.

"I know that we had some flows that were above normal for this time of year, and we're looking into that," he said.

Brooks said he did not know whether the flume at Ocoee 2 was operating Saturday morning, carrying some water to generate power instead of channeling it into the river.

He also said the river did not reach the cut-off level Saturday.

"We have a specific guide level where we would notify the rafting companies to pull people out of the river," he said. "I can confirm that that did not happen today."

Steve Lofty, chief of West Polk Fire and Rescue, said Saturday there is no way rafters would be on the river if it was running too high or fast.

"If that river was too high, the state park would've shut it down in a heartbeat," he said.

Saturday, Brooks said if the river reaches the cut-off level, TVA contacts the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.

"TDEC are the ones who make that call," he said.

Polk County sheriff's officials could not confirm whether there were multiple incidents on the river Saturday.

According to newspaper archives, Saturday's death was the first since two rafters died within two weeks of each other in June on the Ocoee. More than 300,000 visit the Ocoee each year.

about Alex Green...

Alex Green joined the Times Free Press staff full-time in January 2014 after completing the paper's six-month, general assignment reporter internship. Alex grew up in Dayton, Tenn., which is also where he studied journalism at Bryan College. He graduated from Rhea County High School in 2008. During college, Alex covered the city of Graysville and the town of Spring City for The Herald-News. As editor-in-chief of Bryan College's student news group, Triangle, Alex reported on ...

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