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One dead in river rafting accident

October 01, 2004|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

HARPERS FERRY, W.VA. - One person died Thursday as the result of a rafting accident on the Shenandoah River near Harpers Ferry, according to a West Virginia Division of Natural Resources official.

Lt. Jerry Jenkins said he believed the accident happened near Chestnut Hill Road. He said two other DNR officers were investigating and taking statements from employees with River Riders, a rafting company in Harpers Ferry.

Erin Bourgois, a spokeswoman for River Riders, said Thursday night that River Riders organized the white water rafting trip, which involved five rafts. Each raft seats five to six people, she said.

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She said she couldn't say whether one or multiple rafts tipped over or how the accident happened.

Scott Biller, assistant fire chief of Friendship Fire Co. in Harpers Ferry, said Thursday night he could not release details of the accident, because DNR was still investigating. He said his company was at the scene for about 90 minutes.

Ken White, who was handling the investigation, did not return phone calls Thursday night.

Ed Smith, chief of Independent Fire Co., of Ranson, W.Va., said the operation was difficult because it required "heavy-duty rescue" gear, including ropes and rigging.

Smith said rescuers from multiple companies rappelled down a sharp drop-off, which is too steep to walk down, and reeled up on stretchers those who were seriously injured.

"It was probably at lot safer (than a rescue by boat) at that stage," Smith said.

Smith said emergency responders at the site believed using a boat would not be as safe given the high water level. He said a rescue in a similar location when a women was injured while tubing was conducted by boat about one month ago because the water level was more manageable.

A flood warning had been issued for the Shenandoah River but was canceled at 2:18 p.m. Thursday, according to the National Weather Service's Web site.

At 1 p.m. the river was measured at 13.1 feet and falling, the Web site said. The river's flood level is 13.5 feet.

A spokesperson at the National Weather Service's Sterling, Va., office said Thursday at 7 p.m. that the Shenandoah River's level was at 11.8 feet. He said the measurements were all taken at Millville, W.Va. - the closest site to Harpers Ferry.

Staff writers Tara Reilly and Brian Shappell contributed to this story.

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