FORT PAYNE, Ala. – The body of a 19-year-old Cobb County, Ga. man was pulled from beneath Little River Falls at Little River Canyon National Preserve just before 9 a.m. Thursday.
Park rangers said the victim had been swimming with a 21-year-old woman at the bottom of the falls when he was pulled under around 2:15 p.m. Tuesday.
The woman was able to escape the current and be rescued, but he was not as lucky.
“You have water coming from two, three, different portions of the waterfalls, you have cross currents and it forms and etty there and plus you have the turbulent going up and down and doing like an under tow,” said park ranger Matt Switzer.
Thursday, the water level and the current were about half of what they were on Tuesday when the drowning happened.
WHNT News 19 reporter Tiffany Lester was there covering Memorial Day weekend safety just a few hours before rangers got the call that two people needed to be saved.
“If you’ve been out quite a bit during the day, you’re tired, it’s warm out, it’s hot, you’re dehydrated, you’re tired from swimming. Even a strong swimmer can easily be overcome by a wild river like the Little River,” said Switzer.
After river conditions let up enough for continued dive attempts, the victim’s body was recovered from beneath Little River Falls about 40 hours after he went under.
National Park Service rangers, Fischer Rescue Squad, Fort Payne Fire Department, DeKalb County Sheriff Office, Cherokee County Sheriff Office, Cherokee County Rescue Squad, Cherokee County Emergency Management Agency, Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA) State Troopers, ALEA Aviation, ALEA Game and Fish Law Enforcement, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency Law Enforcement, Cherokee County Coroner’s Office, and DeKalb Ambulance Service responded to the scene for the rescue and recovery.
Divers tried to find the victim’s body, but water conditions, did not make it easy.
“The river itself was flowing very strong from recent rains. It was dirty as well. The current, they were fighting it like crazy. Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency brought down a remote submersible, but the current was just too strong even for that,” explained Switzer.
About five hours after the body was found, others could be seen walking around the top of the falls and sitting on rocks at the bottom of the falls.
A family visiting the national preserve from Huntsville Thursday said situations like this are sad and scary.
“Especially having kids around those same ages to think how easy it is for that to happen. I think teenagers typically think they’re invincible and just that it’s easy to have one second of a slip up and then it could change everything,” said Huntsville resident Paige Miller.
Switzer told WHNT News 19 the families of those involved are in his thoughts but hopes this can be a warning to anyone wanting to swim in wild rivers especially after heavy rainfall.