The recent tragic drowning of a Springdale child again spotlights, the benefits of learning river safety and practicing safety skills to prevent more accidental drownings.
The Spring River is one of the top float destinations in the tri-state area. Unfortunately, common sense and safety concerns are often abandoned in the name of fun. Officials with both the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and local law enforcement stress the importance-first and foremost-of wearing a life jacket. A large majority, if not all accidental drownings are preventable, and, many times the only difference between life and death is a simple personal floatation device.
Many floaters spend more time preparing their coolers for the trek down river than considering safety precautions. Last year alone, the Spring River claimed three lives, with an additional near drowning, and hundreds, if not thousands drowning over the years. With anywhere from 10,000 to 14,000 people on the river during holiday weekends.
A large majority of the Spring River's victims are not locals, as many who have grown up on and around the river tend to have a greater respect for unseen dangers. During interviews conducted at Dam 3 in Mammoth Spring last summer with floaters, many did not have life jackets in their canoes. They said, they were looking forward to "getting sun" and, said, the jacket prevents this reward for their float. Although armed with coolers of beer, others said they are good swimmers and did not need the life jackets. While it is nearly impossible to monitor the entire river, officers try their best to control dangerous or illegal behavior. Unfortunately, they cannot prevent accidents or drownings.
By Arkansas state law, life jackets are only required to be within the canoe or raft, not to be worn, unless the person floating is under the age of 12. On the day of the late spring interview last year, kids as young as 7 or 8 were leaning over canoes looking for turtles, clad only in swimming suits or shorts. This is a huge problem because, by the time a person has fallen or been thrown from the vessel, it is too late to grab a life jacket. Many times the canoe or raft may already be ahead of the floaters who could be struggling to overcome a current and get safely out of the river. The safety of river goers is imperiled by intoxicated floaters, or those who may not know the river well enough to respect and avoid its danger areas.
Two of the three major outfitters in the area, Many Islands and Spring River Oaks representatives said they provide life jackets to floaters but do not give any type of safety instruction, written or verbal, other than a few vague warnings about problem areas. Many do not realize, due to the falls and dangerous areas on the river, The Spring River is classified as a Class 3 River. When taking white water rafting trips on this classification of river in other states, floaters are required to go through a safety session with complete instruction prior to boarding the raft. While this is not required on the Spring River, those considering floating, should arm themselves with some basic knowledge before entering the river.
Nearly all drowning are preventable, but research shows nearly all victims of the Spring River were not wearing life jackets. The Centers for Disease Control statistics say children ages 1 to 4 have the highest drowning rates and, of those who drown, the majority are either poorly supervised or entirely unsupervised at the time of their death. Such was the case in the tragic death of four year old Caleb Linn last week on the South Fork River in Cherokee Village.
Other causes of drowning include life jackets that are not properly fastened or too large. Many also drown when the extra long straps became entangled in river debris rendering the life jacket useless. Many other accidental drowning involved the use of excessive alcohol. In one local case, a man who drowned on the Spring River in 2009, left his party after being intoxicated . By letting someone know your float plans, as well as the anticipated take out time and location, floaters can be assured if they become lost, get caught in a storm, or are injured; someone will know where to begin searching.
Missing floaters or swimmers require numerous hours from local emergency personnel and law enforcement. Search parties all too often turn into recovery efforts. Rescue missions take time that could better use solving crimes in the area or helping others in need. By utilizing a buddy system, limiting or foregoing alcohol and using life jackets, most of the victim's lives could have been saved.
In addition to these safety concerns, last year, a female drowned on the Spring River near Rio Vista in Hardy, after getting out of her raft on falls and became caught between large holes in the rocks. The spaces between the rocks are created after each flood on the river moves the rocks and creates large ledges. When covered with water is not visible. Entanglement and entrapment also lends to numerous drowning deaths. By taking alternate routes over steep falls can also improve safety and probability of tipping.
Other things that can help insure safety include making sure to always swim with a buddy, insuring children are supervised at all times while on the river, learning CPR and not using air filled or foam toys such as water wings, noodles or inner tubes as a replacement for life jackets. While many use these during swimming or some as a sole floating devices for their long trek downs the river, they are not intended as life saving devices. By also arming yourself with weather condition information, being aware of the possibility of strong winds, thunderstorms or lightening, the chance of accidental drowning is also decreased.
By arming oneself with knowledge and obeying safety precautions, the Spring River is a safe way to enjoy the upcoming warm Spring and Summer. So grab a life jacket, sun block, review a map of trouble areas and stay in the canoe on the falls, but by all means come float the river, shop in some unique shops, enjoy a leisurely day at a local hotel or campground and eat some of the wonderful local cuisine, but most of all, don't be scared of the beautiful Spring River but instead, respect her.