Taking Action: Water safety facts put boating fatalities into perspective

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LAUDERDALE COUNTY, Ala. (WHNT) - This month alone, there have been at least four drownings in the Tennessee Valley, many of which were the result of not wearing a life jacket.

"Make sure you have them," stressed Senior State Trooper Jonathan Appling, "because that's a big part of boating safety, ensuring that if something does happen that they do remain safe because even the best swimmers, the best, most competent swimmers still can get into trouble out there on the water. Especially big bodies of water, like the Tennessee River."

Florence Fire Department's Water Rescue crews continue to circle the coast near Wilson Dam where a barge collided with a pontoon boat Saturday night. They are looking for 62-year-old Sid Elliott, who Appling said went overboard during the accident. Six other passengers were hospitalized, and one was pronounced dead at the scene.

With very few details released about the incident, it's not known yet if the passengers on the pontoon boat were wearing life jackets.

"Children eight and under are required to wear life preservers," Appling explained. "They are also required to have a life preserver on board for each passenger. Not only do they have to be life preservers, they have to be Coast Guard approved and they have to be an appropriate size."

When it comes to heading out on the water at night, note a few facts from the U.S. Coast Guard:

  • Most fatalities linked to boating accidents happen from the hours of 8:30 p.m. - 6:30 a.m.
  • 84% of drowning victims were not wearing a life jacket

As for the continued search on Wilson Lake, both the depth and the weather are making it difficult

"They have to look out for their own safety as well," said Appling. "So, if conditions become too dangerous for them, they've got to discontinue their search. They're doing they're very best and trying their hardest because they want to find him just like everyone else does."

Crews will continue the the search for Elliott until the family has some closure.