Body Of Chattooga Rafter Recovered - WSPA.com

Body Of Chattooga Rafter Recovered

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The body of a rafter who has been missing since June 19 has been recovered in Oconee County. The body of a rafter who has been missing since June 19 has been recovered in Oconee County.
The U.S. Forest Service announced the recovery of the Florida man's body at a news conference Friday afternoon. (Oconee County Emergency Services) The U.S. Forest Service announced the recovery of the Florida man's body at a news conference Friday afternoon. (Oconee County Emergency Services)
Thomas Hill fell into the Chatooga River during a guided rafting trip, went underwater, and never surfaced again.  (Oconee County Emergency Services) Thomas Hill fell into the Chatooga River during a guided rafting trip, went underwater, and never surfaced again. (Oconee County Emergency Services)
Rescue and recovery crews spent days trying to locate and pull his body from the river.  They were up against dangerous conditions and bad weather. (Oconee County Emergency Services) Rescue and recovery crews spent days trying to locate and pull his body from the river. They were up against dangerous conditions and bad weather. (Oconee County Emergency Services)
OCONEE COUNTY, S.C. -

 

Body Of Chattooga Rafter Recovered
July 5, 2013

The body of a rafter who has been missing since June 19 has been recovered in Oconee County.

The U.S. Forest Service announced the recovery of the Florida man's body at a news conference Friday afternoon.

Thomas Hill fell into the Chattooga River during a guided rafting trip, went underwater, and never surfaced again.  

Rescue and recovery crews spent days trying to locate and pull his body from the river.  They were up against dangerous conditions and bad weather.

They pulled his body from the water just before noon Friday.  

"We believe that high flows on the Chattooga Wild and Scenic river freed Mr. Hill's body so that he could begin his journey home to his family," Forest Service spokesperson Michelle Burnett said.

Recovery Efforts Suspended Due To High Water
July 2, 2013

Recovery crews have stopped their efforts Tuesday for the day to try and retrieve the body of a rafter on the Chattooga River because of dangerous conditions.

Overnight rainfall created higher-than-normal water levels in the Socken-Dog rapid where crews believe they found the remains of Thomas Hill.

Hill fell from a raft while on the river June 19 and efforts to recover his remains have extended for more than two weeks.

"The river depth has increased by around three feet in the area where Mr. Hill was located yesterday, and there is no safe access from rafts or shoreline today," said Incident Commander Buck Haney in a written statement.

"The boulders and bedrock that provide anchor points are difficult or impossible to access at these levels, and there are no safe areas on the shorelines."

All commercial boating is halted in the Five Falls area, where Sockem-Dog rapid is located.

Search Crews Locate Body Of Missing Rafter
July 1, 2013

Search crews have located the body of missing rafter, Thomas Hill. After 13 days of search and recovery efforts, Hill's body was located deep into the Sockem-Dog rapid, stated Incident Commander Marty Dixon of the U.S. Forest Service.

Dixon stated that the rains from Sunday, caused river flows to rise above safe operating levels on Monday. They hope to start recovery efforts again on Tuesday and recover Hill's body and return him to his family in Florida.

"Unfortunately, we were not able to deploy a recovery effort due to the rising water levels from ongoing thunderstorms," Dixon said. "We feel confident that Mr. Hill will be in the same place tomorrow."

Crews originally located Hill's body on June 20, but the swift river currents moved it from its original location.

Recovery Crews Search New Location Friday
June 28, 2013

Crews trying to find the body of Thomas Hill will search an area of the Chattooga River Friday in Oconee County that some river guides didn't know existed.

The search for the Florida man's body has gone on for more than a week. 

Crews discovered a new area Thursday underneath Sockem-Dog Rapid.
 
"Lower flows allowed us to search in some areas of Sockem-Dog that we hadn't been able to see with a camera before," said Incident Commander Buck Haney in a written release.

"This is a brand new area for the search team to explore so we're going back there with cameras today."
 
Two new search dogs from Georgia will also join the effort Friday.
 
The U.S. Forest Service is asking all paddlers to take their craft out of the river and walk around Sockem-Dog Rapid to allow the search crew to work without interruption. 

Agencies Reach Out For Ideas In Search For Rafter; Vigil Thursday
June 27, 2013

Responders handling the search and recovery efforts for the body of a Florida man who fell in the Chattooga River in Oconee County during a rafting trip last week are reaching out for new ideas and options.

According to a news release from the U.S. Forest Service Thursday, agencies involved are asking other groups for help.

"Right now, we're doing everything we can with the tools we have to recover Mr. Hill," said Incident Commander Scott Loftis. "But we need to start looking at how others have handled similar situations and bring in some fresh ideas."

Despite the lengthy operation, leaders say they remain committed to recovering Hill's body, while keeping safety as the number one priority.

The community will host a prayer vigil Thursday evening.  It will take place at the Long Creek Baptist Church on Academy Road in Long Creek at 7 p.m.

Stay with 7 On Your Side for the latest developments as we continue to follow this story.

Dogs and more Crews to Search for Missing Rafter
June 26, 2013

Search crews remain determined to find the body of a Florida man who fell in an Oconee County river last Wednesday.

Officials say Thomas Hill fell in the Chattooga River during a guided rafting trip.  He went underwater and has not been seen since.

Two new search dogs joined the effort to find Hill's body Wednesday.  On Tuesday, search dogs indicated the drowning victim still may be located in Sockem Dog Rapid.  Crews say they found Hill's body last week in that same location, but thought the current had moved it down the river.

Crews from the Midlands will also help relieve rescuers who have been on the scene for eight days.

Leaders of the search party say fatigue and disappointment have started to set in, but they remain resolute in their efforts.

"Some people have been supporting this effort for more than a week, sometimes as many as 16 hours a day, so of course they're tired," said Incident Commander Scott Loftis. "But that doesn't lessen our determination to do the right thing for the family, every day."

Despite dangerous conditions, authorities say safety of the crew is the top priority.

Crews Resume Recovery Efforts, Now In Seventh Day

June 25, 2013

Recovery crews in Oconee County are back searching for the body of Thomas Hill who fell from a raft  last week in the Chattooga River.

Hill, from Florida, fell in the water on Wednesday and has not been seen since.

Crews are now bringing in search dogs, as well as an additional underwater camera to find Hill's body.  Officials from the Greenville County Sheriff's Department will also be searching from the air.

Hill's body was discovered late last week, but authorities say swift currents moved his body from where they found it.

Despite dangerous conditions, authorities say they remain determined to find and recover Hill's body.

"Although we had a difficult day yesterday, we remain committed to conducting our work safely and returning Mr. Hill to his wife and children," said Incident Commander Scott Loftis.  "Crews will be starting at Sockem Dog Rapid again today and working their way down the river in areas where Mr. Hill's body could be located."

Search For Body Of Rafter In Oconee Co. Suspended Until Tuesday
June 24, 2013

Search crews have suspended the recovery effort of the body of a rafter who fell in the Chattooga River last week.  Officials in Oconee County made the decision Monday because of equipment problems and the potential for storms.  They expect to resume the operations Tuesday.

"We had some challenges today," said Incident Commander Scott Loftis. "We are bringing in additional equipment and watching the weather forecast tonight to ensure safe and efficient operations tomorrow."

Monday marks the sixth day of searching for the body of Thomas Patrick Hill, of Florida.  He fell from a raft during a guided trip on Wednesday and has not been seen since.

Hill's body was spotted late last week, but river currents appear to have sent it down the river, authorities said.

Recovery efforts over the weekend were dangerous for rescue workers and yielded no results.

Officials continued searching Monday with an emphasis on safety.

"Safety has been our number one objective throughout the mission and it's a credit to the folks out there that the more than 200 people involved have not suffered any injuries."

An aerial search originally planned for Monday was also delayed due to weather.

Keep checking back for the latest updates from 7 On Your Side.

Search Enters Fifth Day
June 23, 2013

The search for a missing rafter on the Chattooga River has entered its fifth day.

On Sunday, four divers from Oconee and Pickens counties joined the recovery crew, which also includes 18 trained responders who have also joined the search from Anderson, Pickens, Oconee, Rabun (Ga.) and White (Ga.) counties. The Georgia Department of Natural Resources is providing air support and six commercial river guides and U.S. Forest Service personnel are aiding in the efforts.

"Today we have added four highly skilled divers  to the river-based team," said Incident Commander Keith Wilbanks. "Even though the river is still flowing at about 1.73 feet at the Hwy. 76 gauge, the crew is focusing efforts in calmer waters below Five Falls. So it's safe for them to be in the water."

"The dive equipment needed to conduct this operation created a logistics challenge for our rafting company partners," said Wilbanks. "So we've added two equipment rafts to today's float plan."

Including Sunday's efforts, 216 personnel have been involved in the recovery operation.

Thomas Patrick Hill, of Florida, went missing Wednesday on the Chattooga River during a rafting trip with his company, Sherwin Williams. Rescue and recovery efforts since then have been hampered by the swift currents and dangerous rapids of the river.

A Sherwin Williams spokesperson issued the following statement to WSPA affiliate WFLA-TV in Tampa, Florida on Friday:

"The Sherwin-Williams family is deeply saddened and mourns the loss of Tom Hill. Tom, a 27 year veteran from our Tampa, FL district, was a valued member of the Sherwin-Williams team and contributed significantly to the company's success. Tom will be greatly missed. Our condolences and prayers go out to Tom's wife Linda and their four children during their time of mourning. The company is working closely with investigators to determine the details surrounding the accident. "

Search Suspended Until Sunday For Missing Rafter
June 22, 2013

Search crews have suspended recovery efforts for a missing Florida man who drowned while on a rafting trip on the Chattooga River.

"After successfully completing surface water and shoreline searches today, we were unable to locate Mr. Hill's body," said Incident Commander Scott Loftis. "Toward the end of the shift, we had some equipment problems and had to suspend operations about an hour earlier than expected."

Crews had to expand the search after the swift current of the river likely moved the body of Thomas Patrick Hill down the river. On Saturday, they used side-scan sonar and an underwater video camera as they searched beyond the Sockem-Dog Rapid into the area below Five Falls.

Approximately 20-25 responders from various agencies will return to the site on Sunday to continue with recovery efforts. The U.S. Forest Service is asking all paddlers to take out above Sockem Dog Rapid and portage around the rapid of the river left until further notice to allow for continuity of operations.

Rafter's Body May Have Been Moved By Current After Being Found
June 21, 2013 at 5:20 p.m.

After finding the body of a rafter who went underwater in Oconee County Friday, crews working in the recovery effort say it appears the body was moved by the current.  The operation is now back in the search phase.

"Unfortunately we were unable to recover Mr. Hill's body today," said Incident Commander Scott Loftis.  "The river current appears to have moved Mr. Hill's body away from its original location."

Authorities have suspended the search for the evening.  They will resume Saturday morning, using underwater cameras to locate the body of Thomas Patrick Hill.  The water level is expected to be too high for divers to enter the water.

Hill fell from the boat during a guided rafting trip Wednesday.

Rafter's Body Located Underwater In Chattooga River
June 21, 2013 at 10:30 a.m.

Oconee County Emergency Fire Chief Charlie King says they have located the body of the missing rafter on the Chattooga River Friday morning.

Officials confirmed the location of the body using underwater cameras.

The body of Thomas Patrick Hill, of Florida, remains in the river.  Crews are now planning the best way to remove it.

Hill fell from the boat during a guided rafting trip Wednesday.

This is the same area where a similar incident occurred last summer.  Read more about that fatal situation here.

Rafter Identified; Conditions, Location Hindering Oconee Co. Search
June 20, 2013

Rescue efforts for a missing rafter who fell into the Chattooga River during a commercial white water rafting tour Wednesday continue.

Technical rescue teams resumed their efforts Thursday morning to find the man who fell in the Chattooga River.  The man appeared to have been trapped in a rapid, according to employees of Southeastern Expeditions of Georgia.  The company's guides were unable to find him after they say he and three others fell out of the raft.

Authorities say conditions were prime and the company followed all precautions.  The victim who drowned was wearing a life jacket and helmet.  He was later identified as Thomas Patrick Hill, a resident of Florida.

Southeastern Expeditions, as well as two other rafting companies are permitted by The U.S. Forest Service to provide guided tours on the Chattooga River. That agency determines when the water is safe for rafting, and where companies can put their rafts in.

"The guide on this tour had 5 years experience, a veteran guide, the trip leader had 20 years experience and the safety boater had 20 years experience," Larry Mashburn with Southeastern Expeditions said.

Crews worked Wednesday evening to find the rafter, but had to suspend the search when it got dark.

Thursday crews were back at it. But Oconee County Fire Chief Charlie King tells 7 On Your Side water levels became too high and dangerous for divers.  Rescue efforts have also been difficult because of the rapids remote location.

"The closest we can get to it is about a 2 hour rafting trip in, or a 40 minute hike, a pretty strenuous hike," King said.  

Recovery efforts are expected to resume at 7 a.m. Friday.

Oconee County Emergency Services, Rabun County Emergency Management, the S.C. Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Forest Service are working together to find the man.  They are searching by raft and trail.

Oconee County Fire Chief Charles King says this is the same area where a similar incident occurred last summer.  Read more about that fatal situation here.

Keep checking back for the latest on this developing story.

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