Sweep the Hooch

Fast river overturns volunteers’ kayaks

by Wes Mayer

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Firefighters Chris Barnes, far left, and Chad Hardage, far right, were on the scene to help volunteers Pamela and Madison Williford get out of the water on Saturday. 


Four people ended up going for an unwanted swim in the Chattahoochee River Saturday morning, and they were all rescued with the help of Coweta County firefighters.

Nobody was injured, but the water was around 60 degrees, and it was a frightening experience for some.

Earlier Saturday morning, Coweta County volunteers gathered at Chattahoochee Bend State Park for the fourth annual Sweep the Hooch event. The program is organized by Trout Unlimited, Chattahoochee Riverkeeper and the National Park Service to clean up trash along 44 miles of the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area on 27 different sites. The Chattahoochee Bend State Park is the furthest south of these 27 areas.

Due to the recent rain, however, the river was about nine feet deep — this meant less trash for the volunteers to grab and faster currents. This current caused both cases where volunteers’ canoes overturned.

Pamela Williford and her daughter Madison were the second couple to have their boat flip over in the river. It was Madison’s first time on the river, and she probably won’t forget it.

While traveling down the river picking up trash, Pamela and Madison got too close to a tree which had fallen over the water. Pamela said the two were not able to push away from the tree in time, and the current began to pulled their kayak underneath. Their kayak was quickly overturned, and the two were pulled into the water, but they were able to hold onto the tree.

Pamela said Madison began yelling “swimmer” for the rescuers, and Pamela was able to hold on to both the tree and her daughter. Luckily, firefighters with the Coweta County Fire Department were nearby and able to come to their aid.

Five Coweta firefighters were on the river during the event. Capt. Mark Griffin and firefighters Chad Hardage and Chris Barnes were in the inflatable zodiac watercraft, and firefighters Cody Darracott and Adam Moss were in separate kayaks.

Pamela and Madison were transported in the zodiac back to the boat ramp a little chilled and shaken, but they were not injured. Firefighters called Coweta County EMS to the scene, but they did not need to transport either Pamela or Madison.

The first couple whose boat overturned were both adults and were also uninjured.

For more on the complete story of the Sweep the Hooch event, look in Wednesday’s print and digital editions of The Newnan Times-Herald.



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