Overnight rainfall creating higher-than-normal water levels in the Chattooga Wild and Scenic River today has forced recovery workers to suspend on-water recovery efforts for Thomas Hill. Search crews have been focusing on the Sockem-Dog rapid area of the Chattooga since Mr. Hill fell from a raft there on June 19, 2013. Results of side-scan sonar used yesterday confirmed his location there with a high degree of confidence.
“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. “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, when levels are above 2.5’ on a water gauge located at the Highway 76 bridge. Water levels measured 2.7’ on the gauge Tuesday morning. Rain is expected to continue in the area throughout the day. Today a team will hike to the location in hopes that increased flows will reveal Mr. Hill’s body and recovery operations can be completed. Experienced whitewater rescuers from North Carolina are on scene to consult and share ideas. Experts from USGS are also on site assessing the rapid area to determine water flow.