After the heavy rains that turned the sometimes placid-looking Delaware River into a turbulent, choppy and muddy maelstrom, visitors to the area didn’t think of the dangers a trip down the river can bring.
Five friends boarded a raft on the afternoon of August 10. One of them fell in, and despite the efforts of two of his friends who jumped in to try to save him, and the following full-scale rescue operation coordinated by the National Park Service (NPS), he was still missing the following day. Devin Harrison, 20, from Ireland, became the first drowning victim on the Upper Delaware River in two seasons.
The NPS had set up an emergency center at Knight’s Eddy Indian Head Canoe camping site next to the river and Route 97, about a mile down from the point where the accident happened. On August 11, Sunday afternoon, at the site, NPS Information Officer Ingrid Peterec said it was now a recovery operation.
Harrison was in the United States on a work visa. The names of the others on the raft were not available, nor any information about the victim’s family.
Dive teams were at work trying to locate the victim in the still fast-moving river on Sunday afternoon, and rescue teams from the emergency management services were patrolling the stretch of the river where the accident took place. An Airboat was combing the waters, and jet boats went by raising waves, which the apparently oblivious rafters, kayakers and canoers enjoyed.
The weather had cleared up, and a large number of them were both on the river and enjoying the cliffs right next to the accident scene. Many onlookers stopped by on Route 97 to observe the ongoing efforts of the emergency teams.
At the emergency site in Knight’s Eddy, Peterec continued, “After trying to rescue their friend, the two friends managed to get back into the boat, and they made it to the shore, where a 911 call was made from one of the residences.” The drowning victim was not wearing a life jacket, while the two who jumped in to save him were. Peterec spoke about the safety the simple gesture of wearing a life jacket can bring, “You just bob on the water.”
In an update on August 13, Peterec said in a phone call that the victim had been located on Monday at 12:30 pm at Knight’s Eddy Indian Head Canoes. “He was recovered by the park rangers who were just patrolling the river on a boat. They just spotted him,” she added. His body was taken to Catskills Medical Center in Harris.
Harrison’s parents, who are from Ireland but who were on a trip to Alaska, were flying in to attend to the incident.
The raft was rented from Kittatinny Canoes. “But nobody can force anyone to wear the lifejacket once they are in a raft,” acknowledged Peterec.
“We didn’t have any deaths last year,” commented the visibly upset Peterec, going on to explain she hoped the public information campaign that has been done in cooperation with NPS and several local agencies has played a part in that. Public posters and flyers have been placed in all river access points, and a short information clip is showing in Stroudsburg Theater.
“We try to catch them before they actually get to the river,” said Peterec. NPS has also worked with Adams Outfitters, which has placed messages on the electronic billboards on the major roads leading up to the area.
The rescue operation was coordinated by the NPS, and Park Ranger Kevin Reish was the Incident Commander for the rescue operation. When the 911 call goes out, the alarm goes to the nearby emergency teams, depending on the incident location. Peterec said that in addition to the NPS team, the Highland Fire Department, Youngsville Dive Team, Lumberland Dive Team, and Matamoras Rescue Team were alerted.