A young man is believed to have drowned in the Tygart Valley River at Arden Saturday, the second person claimed by the water's swift currents this month, officials said.
A 22-year-old male West Virginia University student is still missing after an accident in the river Saturday, occurring about 100 yards upstream from the popular "Party Rock" area where Rodney Childers, 34, of Clarksburg drowned just one week ago.
Officials were still looking for the 22-year old student's body at presstime on Sunday. His name had not been released because officials believed some family members may not have received notice of the accident at the time.
The Inter-Mountain photo by Melissa Toothman
Phil Hart, chief of the Belington Volunteer Fire Department, and Tom Yokum, volunteer firefighter, scout the rapids on Sunday nearby the Arden location where a young man is believed to have drowned Saturday around 2:30 p.m. At presstime on Sunday, officials were organizing a plan of action, while waiting for water levels to drop low enough to begin search and recovery efforts.
The young man and three other people were swimming across the river toward a rock in the center when the current pulled the 22-year-old down, according to Capt. W.A. Persinger of the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources. Some officials referred to the current as a whirlpool. The remaining three swimmers were able to get out of the water unharmed, officials said.
Some family members of the victim were present on Sunday as officials were developing a plan of action and waiting for the water levels to lower. According to Belington Volunteer Fire Department Chief Phil Hart, more resources were on the way.
"So basically, right now, we're in a recovery mode, trying to wait for the water to drop enough to get in and work and see if we can find him," Persinger said Sunday evening.
A police dog was used to help locate Childers' body last week, but at presstime Sunday there was no way to get a dog close enough to the area to help locate the missing student, and it wasn't possible at the time to safely get a boat in the area to transport a police dog, officials said.
"If we can get a boat in the area to work it, we'll work the dog from the boat," Persinger said.
High waters kept officials from locating the body Sunday, but didn't stop them from searching along the rocks of the river bank to determine where best to start looking when water levels drop.
The Barbour County Sheriff's Department, the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources Law Enforcement District 1, and the Philippi and Belington Volunteer Fire Departments responded to the area on Sunday.
Childers' body was discovered at about 11 a.m. July 24, wedged between two rocks, about 30 to 50 feet downstream from where he reportedly lost his footing and drowned in the high and swift-moving waters of the river.
Many officials agree that the area around "Party Rock" at Arden is not a safe place for anyone to take the risk of swimming.
"They just don't understand the swiftness of the water, the currents," Hart said. Officials urge all who plan to visit the area to take caution.
According to Persinger, there are many locations along the river further upstream and downstream where the water is flat and calm enough to swim in. He says that usually, local residents understand the dangers, but out of town visitors aren't always aware and may underestimate the currents where they attempt to swim.
"Anywhere you've got swift currents and fast rapids should not be utilized for swimming. You're taking your life in your own hands," Persinger said.
Lt. Phil Ferguson of the Barbour County Sheriff's Department said that as many as four lives have been lost to the rapids in one year, but there have been years with no casualties.
"It's early. This is just July," Ferguson said. The waters in the area had been low due to lack of rainfall, and Ferguson said that there hadn't been very many people in the area because the river was "so low and so dry." Now, after the area has seen some rain, water levels have risen and drawn more people.
Without laws to enforce regulations against swimming in the area, Persinger said that signs might not help the situation.
"Without some type of teeth in the law to stop it (swimming), I just don't know if that would do," Persinger said, adding that state parks can regulate swimming, but the Arden area is not a state park.