Tailwater accident survivor advocates ‘safety’ over ‘fun’ near dams

By Lee Roberts

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Dec. 15, 2012) – Advocating “safety” over “fun” near dams, David Davis recently described in detail his very personal experience of being sucked into swirling waters after his fishing boat capsized in the Tailwater below Cheatham Dam June 26, 2010.

Video Web Gems: David Davis shares his story of walking on the riverbed of the Cumberland River after his boat capsized at Cheatham Dam in 2010.  (Video by Lee Roberts)

As a result of the accident, “I was walking on the bottom of the Cumberland River,” Davis said during an interview at his home in Greenbrier, Tenn., Nov. 27.

Davis said he remembered seeing a log and feeling rocks on the riverbed, and then walking away from the spillway.  He then swam to the surface for a short breath of air before the powerful underwater currents quickly pulled him back to the bottom, he said.

“And I tried to come up a second time, and I got about halfway up.  I could see the light above the water.  And I couldn’t go any further.  I couldn’t hold my breath any longer.  I was exhausted, and I felt water come in my nose, come in my mouth; I could feel that and the cooling sensation of the water came down in my chest.”

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District reported July 20, 2010 that a nearby fishing crew heroically fished Davis out of the water and resuscitated him.  Fishing partner Ben Shutt, 69, drown in the accident.

In related developments, officials announced Thursday via a news release that the district is finalizing plans to implement 24/7 restricted waterborne access to these hazardous waters.

The move to restrict access to dams brings the district into full compliance with Engineering Regulation 1130-2-520, Chapter 10.  It prohibits boating access to the “hazardous waters immediately upstream and downstream of all Corps-owned locks and dams, flood control dams, multi-purpose dams, re-regulation structures, and any other structures with similar hazards to boating or visitor safety.”

The Corps announcement follows a meeting Dec. 6 between Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander and Lt. Col. James A. DeLapp, Nashville District commander.  The senator released a statement following — “If the Corps moves forward in restricting fishing in dam tailwaters, [the Corps should] restrict it to the smallest area possible, consistent with safety requirements.”

DeLapp said in a Tennessean report Dec. 13 that “the restricted areas are going to be the minimum areas allowed per the regulations both up and downstream of the dams and power plant facilities.”

On the district’s Facebook page citizens are expressing opposition to the pending restrictions.

Jimmy DiTraglia posted Nov. 27, “As an outdoorsman, primarily a fisherman, I am disgusted at the thought of you prohibiting fishing below dams on the Cumberland River. This is an outrageous overreach and would devastate the fishing community. The government’s job is not to take away freedom in the name of safety for individuals who do careless things. People fish below dams and engage in foolish acts which have resulted in injury and death. While that is tragic, prohibiting a favorite pastime of fishermen across the state is not the answer. What’s next? We can’t wade in the Caney Fork anymore because the water is cold and someone could fall in and die of hypothermia? This is absurd.”

Freddie Bell, Nashville District chief of Natural Resources, said the Corps “must operate and manage facilities in such a manner as to provide the public with safe and healthful recreation opportunities, and reduce and minimize situations which lead to claims.  By restricting waterborne access through clear and fixed restricted area boundary signs, buoys and physical barriers, the Nashville District will limit the public’s exposure to hazardous waters and reduce the government’s liability.”

Davis said based on his near-death experience, “I’m all for them putting a restriction of 250 yards below the dam.  I mean, I can understand people wanting to fish, but the hazards outweigh the fun.  You can go and be experienced and can do all you want to do, have all the fun, but you’re still taking a risk every time you go there.”

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