Deceased kayaker found near Skinny Dip Falls

By Shelby Harrell Staff Writer | Jul 06, 2013
Photo by: Shelby Harrell Cruso Fire Department volunteers Michael McCracken, from left, Anna Carroll Pope and Toss Smathers watch for signs of a missing kayaker in the East Fort River while standing on the Wagon Wheel Parkway bridge.

For a group of Kentucky friends, a holiday outing took a disastrous turn Thursday when a kayaker disappeared and was later found dead after paddling in the heavy rain and high waters of the East Fork of the Pigeon River.

The body of Richard Scott Bradfield, 36, of Lexington, Kentucky was found near a riverbank in the Shining Rock Wilderness area around 7:20 p.m. Friday.  Rescuers carried him out from rugged terrain in a heavy downpour across from the Looking Glass Falls overlook.  He was transported to MedWest Haywood after midnight, where he was pronounced dead.

Bradfield had been missing since 3 p.m. when he was last seen on a section of the river in Pisgah National Forest that runs through Haywood County.

A combined effort of emergency personnel from the U.S. Forest Service, Haywood County Emergency Management, Sheriff’s Office, 911, EMS, Rescue Squad, Incident Management, as well as Cruso, Lake Logan, Center Pigeon and North Canton fire departments, Jackson County Rescue Squad, Brevard Rescue Squad and Swiftwater Rescue teams worked together in the attempt to locate Bradfield.

Bradfield was one of a group of seven people who were visiting the area together.  He was reported missing shortly after other members of his group saw his kayak capsize and be swept downstream.  His kayak was found earlier Friday afternoon.

"We actually found his kayak and some other items, like his helmet, paddle, that kind of thing, as the water receded," said Bill Miller, assistant director of emergency management in Haywood County.

Miller said it took several hours to pull the body out of the water, adding that about 50 people had helped carry him out.

"It took time, just with getting ample resources in there to him," Miller said. "They had to investigate the body and do the packaging — the most difficult part was the carry out."

While searchers were prepared for a long term effort, that wasn't necessary after the body was discovered by one of the friends who accompanied him. Miller said the friends had asked to join in on the search.

Once the crews went through, they felt they needed to do something so they followed us in hours later," Miller said. "Fortunately the water had come down where they could spot the body."

Miller said conditions were trying for river activities last week.

“The creek and the river were well above flood stage,” Miller said, referring to the river levels  on July 4.

The high water and rough area resulted in all the kayakers capsizing, he said, adding the missing person had been described as an “expert” kayaker.

“We were told by both people in the party and also other people who knew this person that he was an extremely experienced kyaker with more than 10 years experience on the river,” he said.

Since the kayaker had been reported missing, search teams with as many as 13 people made their way along the East Fork trail. The teams began searching at the base of Skinny Dip Falls and worked their way down the creek in groups.

Miller said wading through the river also had been dangerous for the searchers.

“We can walk the East Fork trail, but in order to get down on the creek bank on the creek side to do an effective water search, they’ve got to be right down on the river,” Miller said. “The terrain, the high water and the dense brush are not allowing us to stay on the river bank 100 percent of the time. There are stretches of the river or the creek that we can’t literally get down to because it’s so rough, so rocky."

The rain also presented a problem for the searching teams. With the threat of imminent thunderstorms, Miller said the teams had been prepared to stay safe.

“This was a tragic incident and our deepest condolences go out to his family,” said Haywood County Chief Deputy Jeff Haynes. “We ask that visitors and residents please be mindful of high water. Please exercise extreme caution when participating in wilderness activity during hazardous conditions.”


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