USA Raft: Woman dies in Saturday rafting incident on the Nolichucky River

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MITCHELL COUNTY, N.C. (WJHL) – A rafting accident on the Nolichucky River led to the death of a woman on Saturday, according to officials.

USA Raft President Matt Moses said that the death occurred in the Nolichucky Gorge in Mitchell County, North Carolina on Saturday.

The death occurred during a USA Raft commercial trip, according to Moses.

The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission Law Enforcement Division identified the woman as Louvella Yelton Arrowood of Bakersville, NC.

Information submitted by USA Raft and posted on the American Whitewater accident database said the incident happened on September 12.

“The trip with 14 guests on it, that had three rafts and three guides, as they were entering Quarter Mile, the last boat to enter flipped near the top of that rapid, near the entrance, and you know, unfortunately, flips happen,” Moses told News Channel 11’s Bianca Marais Monday.

Moses explained that five guests were in the raft that flipped, four made it safely to the rafts awaiting them at the bottom of the rapids, but the woman in question was unconscious when she reached them.

The incident report read in part, “64-year-old Female customer was noted to have recirculated in Hungry Jack close to Ivan (rock) where she was flushed out and again recirculated in 6th drop and was finally able to be recovered.  She was taken below Murphy’s Ledge where CPR and resuscitation efforts by guide staff and 4 private boaters/off duty staff that came on the situation.”

“This guest was not under water for a prolonged amount of time,” Moses told News Channel 11’s Bianca Marais.

Members from Bradshaw Volunteer Fire Department and Mitchel County EMS responded to Poplar;  Unicoi County EMS and Southside VFD responded from Chestoa on the train tracks beside the river. CSX was contacted and all train traffic was stopped so Arrowood could be transported safely. 

She was, “evacuated up to the train tracks and out the Poplar access via UTV with resuscitation efforts continued throughout the incident. She was pronounced dead upon arrival at Poplar.”

Moses explained that though the water levels had more than doubled that day, starting at 900 cfs Saturday morning, eventually reaching 2,000 cfs at the time of the accident around 4 p.m., the water levels were safe for rafting.

“We don’t start looking at not rafting until much much higher levels,” he said.

He added that all guests received safety training before the trip and were equipped with helmets and flotation devices before getting on the rafts.

“There’s no indication that there was any entanglement, or any rocks were involved, you know, no head bumps, or anything like that. We saw zero signs of that,” he said.

Moses added that, to his knowledge, Arrowood’s family would not be requesting an autopsy, thus the death should remain ruled as a drowning.

He said this was a “freak accident,” and that his rafting staff has years of training and experience, many of whom are also trained as EMT’s.

USA Raft closed for business on Sunday following the accident to mourn the loss of their guest and for staff who were on the trip to process.

All staff members were offered counseling.

This accident remains under investigation by the North Carolina Department of Wildlife.

This is a developing story. Look for updates on WJHL.com.

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