Three water deaths over the weekend simply didn’t have to happen, according to water safety information from a state wildlife officer.
“Life jackets. That’s our best message,” said Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency Officer Matt Cameron.
“You could relate a life jacket to a seat belt. Once an accident happens it’s too late to put your seat belt on,” and the same goes for a life jacket, Cameron said.
“It’s actually hard to put on in the water. If they wear them while boating, it’s going to prevent most of the boating fatalities,” he said.
This past weekend, three people died in two swimming and one boating accident, Cameron said.
The first occurred Saturday morning on the Nolichucky River in Embreeville along A.J. Willis Road.
Three adults and two small children were in a small flat-bottom boat, generally called a john boat, that capsized.
Cameron said the investigation indicated the boat may have been overloaded when it began to take on water.
The children, who were wearing life jackets, and two adults made it to shore, but Michael W. Jones, 60, of Jonesborough, went under and never resurfaced.
Rescuers found him on Sunday around 6 p.m. in 8 1/2 feet of water in the same area where he went under.
The second incident also occurred on Saturday, but was a swimming accident at Boone Dam.
It was around 1:30 p.m. Saturday that the Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office received a report of a possible drowning at the swimming area along Boone Dam Road.
When officers arrived, EMS was already on scene performing CPR on the victim, Marco Antonio Delgado, 16,111 Hillvale Drive, Morristown. He was airlifted to Holston Valley Hospital where he was pronounced dead.
Sheriff’s Office Public Information Officer Leslie Earhart said the swimming area near Boone Dam is surrounded by a rope warning swimmers where to stop.
Witnesses told officers that Delgado was swimming with a relative and decided to swim out beyond the rope. A short time later the victim went under and his family member was unable to pull him back up.
It took several minutes for citizen rescuers to find the teen and pull him to shore.
On Sunday, the sheriff’s office received a call about another possible drowning just before 6 p.m. at Warriors Path State Park.
When officers arrived, they learned that a group of people were cliff jumping when the accident occurred. According to witnesses, Samuel Bell, 19, 182 Fair Haven Drive, Kingsport, jumped from the cliff into Fort Patrick Henry Lake, but never resurfaced.
Earhart said Bell had been jumping from a smaller cliff, but decided to jump from a higher one. His friends told officers they tried to talk him out of the jump, but he decided to do it anyway.
Bell “climbed out onto a tree to jump,” but his foot got caught and marred his jump. Bell landed on his side in the lake.
Cameron said the hot weather will continue to draw people to area lakes and rivers to keep cool. Cameron said it isn’t a crime to jump into the water from cliffs, but it also isn’t advisable.
“We discourage it,” he said.
Often victims of such jumps get the wind knocked out of them or the force of hitting the water can cause their knee to hit their head and knock them out, he said.
Rescuers found Bell’s body in 4 feet of water about three hours after his jump.
“If people are going to do that, wearing a life jacket will be the difference between life and death. If they get knocked out, it’s going to save them.”
“People think it won’t happen to them and it happens every summer,” Cameron said.
And every summer, the TWRA and other agencies strongly recommend boaters and swimmers wear life jackets. It’s already a requirement for boaters 12 and under when the vessel is in motion or drifting, he said.
The biggest complaint TWRA gets from boaters and swimmers is that the life-saving devices are uncomfortable.
One alternative is an inflatable life jacket, Cameron said.
“They have a CO2 cartridge in them and when the person enters water or is struggling they can activate them. They’re very comfortable to wear. That’s what our officers wear. We understand it is hot,” he said.
The drawback to the inflatable life jacket is the price, which runs around $100, and the replaceable cartridges run around $30. But Cameron said it’s a small price to pay to save a life.
If a swimmer doesn’t want to wear a life jacket, the other option is to take it with them on a longer swim.
“If they don’t wear the life jacket, take it with them; tie it to a leg where they can reach and get it,” Cameron said. “We strongly encourage swimmers have a life jacket.”
H said people swimming at the lake will look across a cove and think it’s not far, but once they get out into deeper water something can go wrong.
“I think they get their confidence up and to make it more enjoyable, they want to go past that line,” he said of swimming boundaries in designated areas. “It’s there for a reason.”
Boating and swimming accidents can be labor-intensive efforts and take a number of personnel to launch a rescue.
In the boating incident, agencies that assisted the TWRA were personnel from the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, Washington County-Johnson City Emergency Medical Services, the Washington County Rescue Service, Embreeville Volunteer Fire Department, Kingsport Lifesaving Crew and Unaka Search and Rescue.
In the Fort Patrick Henry Lake fatality, the Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office Dive Team as well as divers with the Kingsport Lifesaving Crew were called to the scene to locate the victim.