Professional raft guide: Swift response resolves potentially dangerous situation
It began with a large group of young girls out on the water enjoying their day until their rafts went beyond the scheduled takeout location and they got separated.
What followed was an hourslong search in the turbulent waters of the Lehigh River Monday night until a group of 215 female rafters were eventually accounted for.
Of those, 50 rafters who were in distress had to be rescued as part of a group who were rafting with the outfitter Whitewater Rafting Adventures in Nesquehoning,
Conrad Flynn, a professional raft guide and whitewater enthusiast, works with Whitewater Rafting Adventures in Nesquehoning.
Flynn said he was part of the command post back at the rafting center while the situation was underway.
“The situation that took place is you have a large group of young people and they’re out on the water enjoying their day, their trip gets separated, a couple of the rafts of guests went past the scheduled takeout location and so they needed to proceed to the next takeout location,” Flynn said. “And so you have a chunk of rafts going to one destination, and another chunk of rafts going to another, so now the trip gets spread out over an unusually long distance, and you have some guests who are now separated from the trip and guides, so now you have people who arrived at one destination and people who arrived at another.”
Flynn added that the size of the trip, combined with the fact there were a lot of young people made it extremely important that all of them get reunited very quickly.
“Obviously what you don’t want to have is a bunch of young people standing on banks of the river when it starts to get dark,” he said. “As an operator, as a professional guide, you don’t want somebody now to walk in the woods where they could get hurt and lost.”
Flynn commended all those who assisted the rafters, who he said were from a religious summer camp from both New York and New Jersey, adding that there are two groups that come down the river just above every year, and this was all the girls camp.
“The swift response from the emergency personnel, and the fast-acting guides, everybody performed their duties perfectly, even under a stressful situation,” he said. “I really can’t say enough about that response time; they resolved a situation quickly that could have become very dangerous.”
Flynn noted that while the Lehigh River is in our backyard, it’s the most commercially rafted river in the world.
“It also has one of the best safety records of any whitewater river in the world,” he said. “We’re really grateful to know that type of response is available here.”
Flynn said that in the wake of the incident, one of the major inquiries they’ve had to deal with is the perception that the river was too high or dangerous because there were reports of flooding.
“For us on the Lehigh, the level was fairly routine; it became a little faster-moving than usual, which definitely contributed to them getting separated,” he said. “There was no flooding danger, or anything like that. It would take a substantially greater amount of water to have actual flooding danger.”
Flynn noted the girls were cheering and singing on a bus after the incident.
“They had a fun experience, an experience that was out in nature, and because it was a real-life river and was outside, you see them living that moment on the bus for the first time, recalling that fond memory of what they experienced together,” he said. “The girls were troupers; they did exactly what we taught them to do in the safety briefing that took place before the trip, and they handled it better than most adults would.”