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Searchers 'hopeful' 2 missing after rafting accident on Dan River will be found alive

Searchers 'hopeful' 2 missing after rafting accident on Dan River will be found alive

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EDEN, N.C. — Authorities said Friday they remained hopeful the two people still missing after a rafting accident Wednesday on the Dan River would be found alive.

“This is still an active search and rescue,” said Rodney Cates, Rockingham County’s director of Emergency Services.

Rescue workers returned to the river early Friday to continue searching for two people missing since Wednesday after a group of nine took rafts down the Dan River and went over an 8-foot dam near the Duke Energy Steam Station. Four in the group were rescued Thursday afternoon and three were found dead later that evening, authorities said.

The four who were rescued were taken to a local hospital with injuries not considered life-threatening. Their conditions were not available on Friday.

Dan Riverkeeper Steven Pulliam of Stoneville said on Friday that he wonders if recent rains created mud that obscured the portage area along the river where boaters and tubers can exit and walk around the dam’s powerful currents.

“The portage/trail to exit pre-dam is a good ways before the dam on the right,’’ Pulliam said. “It’s possible that recent rains covered some of the steps with mud, making it hard to see, especially if you’re not looking for it.’’

While the dam’s drop-off is only about 8 feet, it “causes a strong current at its base,’’ Pulliam said. “It would be almost impossible for a tube/raft to go over it without flipping.’’

Jeff Brooks, a spokesman for Duke Energy, said “there is a sign that is visible as you approach the dam that also mentions the availability of a portage.’’

Asked if Duke plans to fortify or make any changes to the area leading to the dam to enhance safety, Brooks said, “Our focus right now is on assisting local emergency management officials with their response.’’

Exposure means body temp drops fast

Even in warm weather with water temperatures around 70 degrees, a person who is not wearing protective clothing can quickly lose body heat and develop life-threatening hypothermia, Pulliam said, noting he traveled the Draper Landing area on Thursday, collecting water samples.

After one hour in 70-degree water, a person could lose dexterity. After two to seven hours in water, exhaustion and loss of consciousness could follow, Pulliam said.

Friday’s search was headquartered at Draper Landing, an access point to the Dan River at N.C. 770’s crossing of the river. Cates said two rescue boats were put in at the site early Friday. A helicopter belonging to the Highway Patrol assisted in the search.

The landing is about 2.6 miles north of the site of Wednesday’s accident, a dam belonging to Duke Energy. The Dan River flows north about another 10 miles to the Virginia state line before eventually turning south.

Freelance writer Steve Huffman contributed to this report.

Contact Susie C. Spear at sspear@rockinghamnow.com, (336) 349-4331, ext. 6140 and follow @SpearSusie_RCN on Twitter.

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