Flooded Illinois River Proving Dangerous For Floaters
TAHLEQUAH, Oklahoma - A flooded Illinois River is proving dangerous for floaters; one person drowned and three others almost died over the weekend.
And Monday, a search and rescue team pulled a Tahlequah teen from the river after she was thrown from her raft and lost her lifejacket. She was found two miles downstream clinging to a tree.
All river operators canceled float trips Saturday, but several families and groups were back floating Monday.
The Illinois River is a busy place to be, and with the river up, one outfitter said it's making it mandatory that everyone wears life jackets.
War Eagle Floaters fill up the buses that will take them up Scenic Highway 10 to launch at Peavine Hollow.
Despite the high levels and currents, 25 members of the Lockwood family decided to spend their day on the river.
"Everybody's got their life jackets, I've got mine over there and we'll put them on. Suntan lotion is important, we don't want to burn too," said Floater David Seng.
The rain from the remnants of Tropical Depression Bill sent the Illinois River above flood stage over the weekend.
Normal river levels are near six-feet and flowing at 516 cubic feet per second. Sunday, the river was at nine feet and flowing almost six-times faster than normal.
The Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission said 49-year-old Gregory McMillan of Ardmore died when the raft he was riding on hit a tree in the river.
He was thrown from the raft and sucked under a tree. Friends found him 200 yards downstream.
Three other people had to be rescued from the river; none of them were wearing lifejackets.
"We're really talking to people and stressing safety and be careful," said Pam Hazen with War Eagle Floats.
Operators like War Eagle Floats aren't taking any chances with the high river levels.
"That's our lifejackets right there. We told everyone before they leave here, has to be around their necks and snapped on," Hazen said.
Seng and his family are being careful and staying alert with the high water and rapid currents.
"Sticking to Pepsi, Cokes, and no alcohol today, so it's just going to be a good non-alcoholic day and watching each other's back and everybody can swim here," he said.
The Illinois River is forecasted to drop two feet this weekend; it's always a good idea to check with your outfitter before you go to hear about the latest conditions.