A missed portage around Angel Falls Rapid in Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area has led to the death of a 61-year-old paddler.
Tony Evans, 61, of Knoxville, Tennessee, was one of four men who headed off on a two-day canoe trip on the Big South Fork of the Cumberland River around 3 p.m. last Friday, launching their two open canoes at the Leatherwood Ford river access.
Park rangers say that about two miles downstream the four missed their intended portage at Angel Falls Rapid and were swept into the Class IV whitewater, where both canoes overturned. All four men were washed through the rapid and emerged in a large pool of flat water. They were able to establish voice contact with each other and verified that all four had emerged from the rapid.
The two members of the group who were furthest downstream secured the canoes and equipment on the west bank of the river and awaited the arrival of their two companions. They saw Mr. Evans swimming toward them, then suddenly give a shout and begin having trouble staying afloat. The two men swam to his aid and found Evans face down in the water and unresponsive. They pulled him to shore and attempted to revive him, but without success. Mr. Evans was not wearing a lifejacket at the time.
One member of the group hiked about a quarter-mile through very rugged terrain to reach a hiking trail, then followed it for about two miles upstream to Leatherwood Ford, where he used an emergency phone to call 911.
Rangers Tom Barnes and Howard Duncan responded along with personnel from Scott County EMS and the county’s rescue squad. Rescue team personnel used ropes and a litter to pull Evans up a very steep and muddy river bank and carried him to a trail where an ATV was used to transport him back to an ambulance at Leatherwood Ford. He was taken to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead. An autopsy is pending.