The identities of two women who died following separate commercial rafting incidents on the Ocoee River over the weekend have been released by Tennessee State Parks officials.
Their bodies have been sent for autopsy, according to Kelly Brockman, communications director for the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.
TVA officials have also released information regarding flow rates on the river during the weekend.
Marnita McGruder, 51, of Rex, Ga., died Saturday after falling from a raft into the rapid nicknamed “Grumpy’s.” McGruder and another rider fell from the same raft into the water. The other rider made it out of the water safely, according to reports.
Boat crews immediately removed McGruder from the water and began CPR. Law enforcement and medical crews arrived on the scene within minutes of the incident. McGruder was taken to Copper Basin Medical Center where she died later, according to reports.
The incident occurred just before noon, a short distance from where rafters and kayakers enter the Class 3 and 4 rapids of the Ocoee River.
Katherine Tyler Luna, 36, of Smyrna, died Sunday when the raft she was riding in became stuck in the “Grumpy’s” rapid.
Matt Price of the Polk County Sheriff’s Office said his initial investigation revealed several people went overboard into the water and a rescue rope bag was deployed. Luna was able to grab onto the rope and was conscious prior to reaching the shore. She then lost consciousness and guides got her out of the water through the help of nearby kayakers. CPR was started by a state park ranger, according to Price.
Price noted that in both incidents, the victims were part of family and friends excursions.
The Tennessee Valley Authority has released information regarding the weekend deaths.
Travis Brickey, information officer for TVA, said initial reports by area media misreported the river flow rates at the time of the accident Saturday.
Brickey said reports from area media stated flow rates exceeded 3,000 cubic-feet per-second (CFS), which is the determined level to suspend commercial rafting on the whitewater path.
Rafters and other whitewater enthusiasts utilize the “middle” portion of the river, between Ocoee Dam 2 and the Ocoee No.2 Powerhouse.
“Under agreement, TVA notifies TDEC when flow rates exceed 3,000 CFS and TDEC suspends rafting. On Saturday around the time of the incident, the flow rate on the middle section of the Ocoee was approximately 2,300 to 2,600 CFS. On Sunday, around the same time of the second incident, the flow rate was 2,200 to 2,500 CFS,” Brickey noted.
Brickey said real-time monitoring equipment “measures water elevations and calculates flow rates going over the top of Ocoee No. 2 Dam that supply water for rafting.”
Brickey also noted that “TVA is reviewing river condition data it recorded over the weekend and will provide that information to assist any agencies investigating the tragic incidents. TVA is not conducting an investigation, as water releases and notification were within TVA’s established policies.”
A media release from the senior vice president of River Operations and Renewables, John McCormick, said, “Water on the Ocoee River is carefully controlled to meet the benefits of recreation, water quality, water supply and power generation. We want everyone to enjoy the excellent recreational opportunities all across the Tennessee Valley, and rafting on the nationally recognized Ocoee River can be a thrilling adventure. However this is a difficult reminder that this and other water activities carry some risk.”
The upper portion of the Ocoee River was the site of the 1996 Summer Olympics which was based in Atlanta. The portion of the river was altered for the event.
Water is controlled along the river route through the Ocoee Gorge by means of a wooden flume line and dams.
TVA manages the flow rates and generates power through the facilities in the gorge.