Everyday Heroes

Rescue Teams Credited With Saving Rafters Over Falls

Park manager calls it a "huge relief" no one was killed. There's video!


When the call came in that six people were over the falls in the whitewater rafting area at Ohiopyle State Park in southwestern Pennsylvania Saturday afternoon, park manager Kenneth Bisbee says his heart sank. Those calls hardly ever turn out well.

"The chances of us getting all six of them out safely is pretty low," Bisbee said. But thanks to the quick actions of his park staff and local firefighters who are trained in swift water rescue, none of the rafters died, and all of them -- 4 guys and two women -- walked away with just bumps and bruises.

Expert kayakers are sometimes allowed to do the falls. Rafters are not.

Bisbee says the group rented a raft, intending to do the middle part of the Youghigheny River rapids, considered Class 1, or least difficult.

"They should have been fine, but they missed the sign for the take out," where people come ashore if they don't intend on tackling more challenging waters downstream explained Bisbee. "They also missed a couple of other warning signs, and at that point there were people on the shore waving and shouting." Cody Veronie was there too, rolling on his cellphone camera when the raft went over the 15 foot falls.

Bisbee says the park's naturalist, who is on their rescue team, was out the door of the Vistor's Center, steps away, within seconds after the call. Ohipyle-Stewart VFD Station 31's rescue team. many of them guides, was on the scene in less than 5 minutes. Several rescuers swam out to the rafters, who by now were clinging to rocks, while other rescuers launched kayaks and pulled them to shore.

The Ohiopyle Falls are beautiful. With the river over 5 feet Saturday, they were also potentially deadly.

Bisbee says life jackets also saved the rafters, one of whom had most of his clothes torn off from being "recirculated" or being continually sucked back into the falls. He says they almost certainly would have drowned without the life preservers, with the river so high and muddy from recent rains. They were shaken.

"It's been an emotional roller coaster for them the past 24 hours." Kenneth Bisbee, Ohiopyle Park Manager

Bisbee says it was a huge relief when he saw everyone safe on shore. He says the group had local addresses and appeared to be in their late 20's, but so far have refused media interviews. He recommends that newbies go rafting with guides who won't let them get into danger. "We love to see people come here to have a great day and we don't want anyone to be in danger for their lives."

(Video: Cody Veronie Facebook page . Images : Discover Ohiopyle website , where you can watch experts take on the falls in kayaks in the annual "Over the Falls Race" by clicking here )

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