August 20, 2014 —
It’s not unusual to see large numbers of people floating down the Upper Delaware River on a summer’s day, but some in the group that were floating through Skinner’s Falls on August 14 were clearly distressed.
There was a group of perhaps 50 girls, and according to Don Schlaefer, who lives on the Pennsylvania side of the river, some of them, who he estimated ranged in age from nine or 10, to 13, were calling for help.
Schlaefer keeps a johnboat on the river; he jumped into it and took off to pick up some of the girls who were calling for help.
He said it amazes him that there was virtually no adult supervision. He said, “The smaller ones, when they’re in the tube and they go through the falls, they don’t have a clue what’s going on, and they can’t reach the water with their hands to maneuver the tubes, and the river out here was filled with them.”
He said that some of the girls could not control the direction of the tubes in the current. Some continued going down the river, and some headed to the riverbank. He said, “It seemed like there was no one there to tell them what to do.”
He said there may have been one or two older girls, in the range of 16 or 17 years old, but for the number of girls on the river, there was surprisingly little supervision. So he went out and picked up about seven who were clearly having trouble and wanted to be rescued.
He said he had so many girls in his boat that there was no room for tubes. He brought a rope to tow the tubes back to shore. He said the girls all said “thank you.”
He said, “One of them was all the way down when I got to her. Her eyes were beet red, she was in tears, and she had one arm in the life jacket. She had slipped out of the thing.”
He said that two of the girls had lost their shoes, making it more difficult for them to walk back to the launch site.
He said he saw early on from across the river that there was an older girl trying to instruct the girls on how to steer the tubes. But, he said, “There’s a current here, and it was windy… so it’s complete havoc and somebody’s going to drown.”
That sentiment was shared by Schlaefer’s wife Helen, who sent an email to The River Reporter about the event. She wrote, “They were all so scared. If he had not intervened, those girls would have gone down the river alone and someone might have drowned.”
She said an event like this occurs every year.