One drowns in the Lehigh, another rescued from rapids at the Glen
Emergency crews are on scene Tuesday night at the Glen Onoko section of the Lehigh River. COPYRIGHT LARRY NEFF/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS
The body of a young man was pulled from the Lehigh River on Tuesday night after a nearly two-hour search by local rescue crews.
Family and friends of the drowning victim, Angel Rivas, 24, of Hazleton, called shortly before 6 p.m. to report the incident. They said Rivas floundered for a brief time before going under water without resurfacing.
“He had probably been under about 10 minutes before we got there,” said Vince Yaich, Jim Thorpe Fire Department chief.
The group had entered the water above the Glen Onoko rapids in Lehigh Gorge State Park and began floating down the river.
By the time the fire department got on scene, other members in the group had entered the water trying to locate the victim.
“They became stranded as well,” Yaich said. “We had immediately called the Lehighton Fire Department dive team and the first goal was to get those individuals out of the water.”
The Lehighton dive team swam out with flotation devices to retrieve the people one-by-one and return them to land.
“They were tired, showed signs of hypothermia and had ingested so much water that one of them had to be flown from the scene,” Yaich said.
The divers resumed their search for the victim and located him nearly two hours later.
An autopsy was scheduled for this morning.
Diminishing sunlight hampered the search to the point that it was almost called off for the night.
“It was really getting hard to see,” Yaich said. “I have to give a lot of credit to the Lehighton dive team because the conditions were tough, but they were persistent. They did not want to come out of the water until they located the individual. They were swimming against the current and that took its toll, but those guys are tough. I can’t say enough about them.”
Whitehall’s dive team was also called to the scene to give Lehighton’s divers a break, but the body was located before that crew arrived.
Tuesday’s drowning was the first fatality of the year at Glen Onoko, an area which continues to challenge local emergency responders.
“Someone has to do something,” Yaich said. “The Fish and Boat Commission said they won’t come out unless a boat is involved. It’s part of a state park, but they have no lifeguards where all of these people are swimming out there. Nobody wants to do anything.”
After a Lehigh Valley teen died after falling 50 feet while trying to retrieve a water bottle in 2016, Yaich said the average rescue at the Glen takes two to three hours. Volunteers spend six hours or more when there is a fatality.
The last several years have been some of the busiest on record as the hiking and rafting areas become more and more popular.
An 18-year-old was rescued earlier this month after falling 15 feet and suffering leg and head injuries.
“People are getting seriously injured and dying out there,” Yaich said, “and sooner or later it’s going to be one of our firemen. We’ve been very fortunate so far, but I’m afraid it’s only going to be a matter of time.”