Coroner: Chattooga River Rafter Died From Spinal Injury - WSPA.com

Coroner: Chattooga River Rafter Died From Spinal Injury

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By Wspa Staff

The body of the rafter who was missing in an Oconee County river was recovered Wednesday.

Rescue and recovery crews were able to find the body of 58-year-old Michael Thomas Dorris of Nasheville with a pole mounted camera in the Chattooga River Tuesday.

Authorities say his body was found Tuesday morning lodged against a rock below the water.

Wednesday morning, his body was pulled from the river.

An autopsy performed Thursday shows Dorris died from a spinal injury.

Dorris was on a commercial raft trip with Wildwater Ltd. in Long Creek Saturday when the raft he was in overturned at Jaw Bone rapid.  Eight people went into the water.  Dorris was seen wearing his life jacket and helmet floating down the river.  Witnesses say he went under water above the Sockem Dog rapid.

The coroner tells 7 On Your Side family members say he never attempted to swim for the shore or towards the rope that was thrown at him for rescue.

Tuesday, a 24 person crew consisting of river guides and rescue technicians floated 90 minutes to the area where Dorris was last seen.  There, they set up a system of ropes and used the underwater camera in the rapid and found his body.

The recovery operation attempted Tuesday is the type that hasn't been done in almost two decades on the Chattooga River. Rescuers cannot reach the area by ground. They had to use rafts and kayaks to float their equipment in to the remote search area. 

Oconee County Fire Chief Charlie King says, “They’re dealing with the dangers of the level (of the river) and certainly, with the weather we're having, the fluctuating river levels.” 

The fast-rising rapids are likely what lead to the recovery operation in the first place.   

A similar incident in this same location occurred in April, 1995 when a 30-year-old Atlanta woman’s body was recovered after more than two weeks.

As of Saturday, there have been 38 deaths on the Chattooga River since 1970. The last reported river incident with death was in May of 2003.

This would the first commercial operated incident with a loss of life. The statement from the coroner says guides did everything within their power to rescue Michael Dorris. The other people on the boat were rescued and not injured.

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