LENOIR CITY, Tenn. (WATE) – Two men were injured Monday while fishing when their boat overturned below Ft. Loudoun Dam.
The boat the two men were in overturned around 7:45 .a.m. from falling water from the dam’s spill gate, according to the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency.
Both men were wearing personal flotation devices when they were thrown in into the turbulent water, but only one was still wearing his when they were recovered by local fishing guides who witnessed the incident, TWRA said.
Bo Rice, owner of Fishing with Bo, said he had three boats in the water when the fishermen went under.
He said his crews take coast guard training for events like this one. Unfortunately, once a boat is too close to the spillway, they can only watch what happens next.
“They couldn’t just drive up there to save them. They have to wait until that boat gets spit out or the person gets spit out because it’s dangerous for them to try to rescue them,” Rice said.
Once his crews realized the boaters were about to be in trouble, they called Anthony Chitwood, a Loudon County Wildlife Officer.
One was taken to Ft. Loudoun Medical Center in serious condition and the other was airlifted to UT Medical Center in critical condition.
Rice said tourists often flock to the dam because they’ve seen social media posts or heard about the good fishing the dam operations create.
“These people that come and never been here, they just go straight into he rough water and (it) gets them. And before you know it, you’re out of control and then you capsize,” Rice said.
The dam is owned and operated by TVA.
A TVA spokesperson said the two spillways released about 34,000 gallons of water per second when the boat got caught up in the strong current.
Both men from Maggie Valley area
James Rich, 72, of Waynesville, N.C., was been treated and released from Ft. Loudoun Medical Center. Ronald Greene, 57, of Clyde, N.C., is in critical condition at UT Medical Center.
The incident is under investigation by TWRA.
“This accident is eerily similar to one that happened on June 2 of last year when a fishing boat carrying three men from North Carolina was pulled under by a spill gate below Ft. Loudoun dam,” according to a TWRA news release. “A 23-year-old man drowned in that incident and two others were sent to the hospital.
Same fishing guides are heroes in two rescues
“Amazingly, the same fishing guides, Verge “Bucky” Motz and Steve Duncan, rescued the victims of both last summer’s incident and the one that occurred today. TWRA is grateful to Captain Motz and Captain Duncan for their heroic acts. Because of their bravery and boating skills, several lives have been saved in these treacherous waters.”
TWRA said this type of accident is becoming more common.
“Since this tailwater is becoming a more popular destination for quality fishing, I’m seeing more risk-taking now more than ever,” said Loudon County Wildlife Officer Anthony Chitwood. “I have seen as many as 15 boats run up in the whitewater at one time.”
In his fifteen years as a wildlife officer in this area, Chitwood had only worked one boating incident where a boat had been sucked into a spillway. Since June 2 of last year, he’s worked three, one below Melton Hill Dam and two at Fort Loudoun.
TWRA issuing citations to boaters in spill gate whitewater
He has begun issuing citations for reckless operation for any boat fishing above the whitewater created by the spill gates.
On Sunday night, he spent several hours on his public address system telling boats to move out of the turbulent waters and issued citations to boaters fishing in the whitewater too close to the dam.
“It’s either issue citations for reckless operation or investigate fatal and serious injury boating incidents every night,” he said in a TWRA news release. “People have to also understand that there aren’t only drownings, but serious injuries such as abrasions, broken bones and lacerations.”
Also responding to the accident on Monday were Loudon County Sheriff’s deputies, Priority EMS, and the Loudon County EMA.