Body of Kayaker Missing in Great Smoky Mountains National Park Recovered

Although popular with kayakers, the West Prong of the Little Pigeon River in Great Smoky Mountains National Park can be quite demanding. Photo by AJH.

Rangers in Great Smoky Mountain National Park have recovered the body of a kayaker who was reported missing during a short paddle on the West Prong of the Little Pigeon River.

The body of Isaac Ludwig, 27, of Hartford, Tennessee, was found about 9:30 a.m. local time in a section of the river. The man's body was located by two kayakers who were not part of the search team, but running the river on their own.

The search effort involved park rangers and Gatlinburg Fire Department’s Swift Water Rescue Team.

The man was part of a trio that entered the water Tuesday evening near the Chimney Tops Trailhead planning to run rapids on the lower section of the Road Prong, a tributary to the West Prong of the Little Pigeon River. The plan was to take out before they reached the West Prong.

Ludwig’s companions, Jared Seiler, Gladwyne, Pennsylvania, 23, and James Donahue, Nashville, 24, returned to shore shortly after the put in when they realized how swift the water was, but the victim continued downstream.

The body was found about 1,000 feet downstream from the confluence of the Road Prong and the West Prong of the Little Pigeon River. The stream level has dropped about 2 feet since yesterday evening and the victim was found above the water entangled in vegetation.

The site where the body was located is extremely rugged and heavily vegetated and is not near a trail. Rescue personnel will have to cross difficult terrain to recovery the body and expect that it will take hours to do so.

According to the folks at American Whitewater, this stretch of river can be quite technical and is rated Class V in spots.

The West Prong, Trailhead and Picnic respectively, are very demanding runs and not to be taken lightly. It's best to go down with someone that knows the river. The rapids mentioned above are mostly class IV+ to V, meaning, there are no names for the scores of continuous class IV and III that you see. Trees are always an issue, so make sure you chat with local boaters before hand who know the latest hazards.

Heavy rains Monday evening and throughout Tuesday initially had boosted the stream level, but by this morning the flows had dropped about 2 feet. Still, rangers say the river still is very rapid and turbulent.