A group of Hendersonville hikers were lucky to escape with their lives Wednesday afternoon when they were trapped by rapidly rising water below Great Falls Dam at Rock Island.
The incident began late Wednesday afternoon as the group of hikers were exploring the gorge several hundred yards from the dam. At some point, TVA began releasing water and the water level in the gorge began to quickly rise. TVA officials said they sounded the alarm and flashed the warning lights in the gorge for over 30 minutes before opening the first of the flood gates. The hikers admitted they heard the sirens but figured everything was okay once the sirens stopped sounding. The sirens stopped sounding when the water was released.
Faced with walls of water heading down stream toward them, the group raced for higher ground. It was in the rush to flee the rising water when one of the group tried to crawl across a fallen log which bridged one large boulder to another. The young man slipped off the log and plunged about ten feet onto the exposed rock below. He suffered a foot injury along with cuts and bruises but was able to climb back on the rock from which he fell.
The TVA closed the flood gates after being told hikers were trapped in the gorge. The water level quickly subsided; however, the injured youth along with a girl who had stayed with him on the outcropping rock was unable to climb the ten-foot cliff face to join rescuers.
Faced with roping the pair upward or swimming them across a fifty-yard span to the closest exit from the gorge, rescuers opted to swim them across. Joey Clark of the Warren County Emergency Ambulance Service swam the pair across the water to safety. For Clark it was his second rescue in as many weeks as he saved a teenager just a week before who clung to the edge of Frank G. Clement Bridge after becoming trapped in the water above the dam.
The hiker who was hobbled suffered only minor injuries. In light of the incident, park officials warn the gorge is no place to play around since the water flows below the dam can be deadly.
“We don’t recommend people even hike down there,” said Rock Island State Park Manager Damon Graham noting the many close calls that have occurred in the gorge below the dam. “It’s best to just observe it from the observation decks above given the rugged terrain and it being just below an operating dam. I think people should heed the signs that warn about the dangers down there.”