TVA closes Fort Loudoun Dam floodgates to assist in search for missing fisherman

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LOUDON COUNTY, Tenn. (WATE)- Tennessee Valley Authority is closing all flood gate spilling today to allow crews to search areas near the dam for a fisherman missing since Saturday.

The closure will allow exploration of areas previously unsearched due to safety concerns. TWRA said officers will have 3-4 boats on the water to search this area. Officials have a remotely-operated vehicle on standby to aid in the search.

Multiple agencies are searching for Eric Mowery, 51, of Heiskell who has been missing near Fort Loudoun Dam since Saturday.

Wildlife officers say that Mowery and Steven D. Musick, 44, of Jellico were fishing from a fiberglass boat that was pulled into the cascading water from the dam’s spillway.

Both men were wearing personal floatation devices, the TWRA said. Musick went underwater several times but was pulled to safety by nearby fishermen, while Mowery went under and never resurfaced.

A Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency spokesperson said Tuesday that search teams continue to recover debris from the boat in the vicinity of the dam.

The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency said Loudon County Homeland Security Marine Rescue, Loudon County Fire and Rescue, Lenoir City Fire Department, Tellico Boaters Assistance Response Team and TWRA have been searching the river since Saturday.

Dangerous waters near the dam

Jim Hopson, a TVA spokesperson, said they had to stop the spill gates in order for TWRA officers to search closer to the dam because the current is too dangerous with them open.

With three gates open, Hopson said 1.8 million pounds of water was moving over the dam per second.

He said the full strength of the water isn’t easily noticeable.

“There is an enormous amount of water moving, both on the surface, as well as over the top of the dam itself. So, the water is extremely turbulent and creates a lot of vortices and a lot of suction that you may not even see from the surface of the water,” Hopson said.

Hopson said once your too close, it can be too late for the boaters to turn around.

“Not only do you get in the position where the boat itself goes under water, once you’re under water it’s exceedingly difficult to get back up to the surface, even under the best of conditions,” Hopson said.

He said the currents are so strong, life vests are pretty much useless.

Often times, boaters are found without clothes on after they go under.

Unfortunately, if a boater does get sucked under water, Hopson said it’s not easy for TVA to turn off the spill gates to stop the strong water current from flowing.

Turning off the turbines could only take minutes because crews can do it remotely, but the spill gates could take minutes or hours.

“There are two ways to move water through a dam. One is through the powerhouse. And those turbines can actually be controlled fairly quickly, in terms of shutting off that water flow. But the spillway gates, if they are open, requires calling a team of individuals out to manually open or close those gates,” Hopson said.

Hopson said TVA loves people to use the river and enjoy the beauty of the dam, as well as enjoy the fishing the dam helps produce, but he said they need to do it safely.

There are several warning signs leading up to the dam, some of which are even markers for a good stopping point to turn around in the river.

If TVA changes the flow of the dam, there are more warning signals.

He said boaters should never think they can handle the currents closer to the dam.

“The sad part about it is there is no fish worth dying for,” Hopson said.

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