Jonathan Clark and Allen Hawkins near the spot at South Holston Lake where Clark was swept downstream.
BRISTOL — Jonathan Clark still has his fishing pole he was using the day he got swept downstream of the weir dam at South Holston Lake.
He did not bring that fishing pole back with him Tuesday when he met again Allen Hawkins, a Tennessee Valley Authority contractor who rushed to rescue Clark, a student at Ridgeview Elementary School in Gray, from the current that could have pulled him beneath the water.
It was a Monday a few weeks ago when Clark and his dad came to the weir dam to fly fish. Because of the recent rains, the water was a little higher than the one other time Clark had fished there, he recalled in an interview at the dam Tuesday.
See an accompanying video interview with Clark and Hawkins at the end of this article.
He remembered that day wading out near the second pillar of the bridge that connects the recreation area to the walking trails on Osceola Island. That second pillar is where he suspected there would be plenty of fish to catch. The bridge is about 50 yards from the weir.
“And I slipped, because a rock came out from under my foot,” Clark said. “And I just began to sink because my waders filled with water and I had a lot of heavy clothes on.”
He started drifting down river but he was being pushed toward the bank where Hawkins happened to be working.
Hawkins walked out of a nearby restroom he was cleaning that day and noticed a man standing on that bridge connecting to Osceola.
This man was waving frantically and explaining that someone who could not swim was down in the water.
Hawkins immediately began to run toward Clark but jumped in his motorized maintenance cart, called a Gator, instead and sped off toward the emergency.
“That’s the only reason I was able to beat his dad down there, is because I was able to get down there on the Gator real quick,” Hawkins said.
Clark, getting colder each second he was in the frigid waters of South Holston, managed to latch on to a tree that had fallen and seemed to be reaching out from the bank.
Hawkins found him clinging to that tree, and his fishing pole.
“And once I got him to let go of his fishing pole, I was able to pull him in,” Hawkins said. “And he was ice cold. And his waders were completely full.”
Clark’s mother, Maria, was with him Tuesday at the recreation area when he met Hawkins again.
“I honestly believe that God put him in that spot for a reason, because it could have turned out very different for my family,” she said. “Our family will be forever grateful to Mr. Hawkins.”
Clark said he was scared after slipping and drifting downstream but he was grateful for Hawkins and the man on the bridge who got his attention.
Hawkins works every day at this recreation area, but has not seen that man who was on the bridge return since that day.
“If he hadn’t been here and seen him, I’d never have known the young’un was down there,” Hawkins said.
Clark is not scared now, just more cautious about the water.
“I’m going to go out a lot of times at this river,” Clark said. “It’s a good place to fish. I fish all the time. Been fishing since I was 4.”
TVA spokesman Travis Brickey cautioned people to be careful at TVA properties.
He said TVA is generating a lot right now trying to bring South Holston’s water level down as it is now three feet above normal.
The weir, which is located a way out from the main dam, allows for the gradual release of water, keeps the river up for longer and provides oxygen for the benefit of fish and plants.
“It’s very popular up here,” Brickey said of South Holston. “It’s one of the prettiest places on the TVA system, I think.
“TVA encourages everybody to go out and have a great time. But you’ve got to do it safely. This is a great story to tell. It could have easily gone the other way, but it didn’t. And we want everybody to be safe and mindful when you’re out, whether you’re in your backyard pool or you’re at the lake or the river. Water’s fun and it can be a great time, but it can be dangerous too.”