We want to thank Abby Turnbull for sharing her amazing story, along with some fantastic tips to help others survive falls into fast-moving water. She received a Life Jackets Worn…Nobody Mourns campaign t-shirt for sharing her story because it was part of a social media giveaway at Please Wear It. You’re welcome to email your own life jacket survivor story anytime to PleaseWearItNews@gmail.com. Take pictures of yourself wearing a life jacket and like/follow Please Wear It on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter so you’ll be ready for the next giveaway opportunity.
This work, Whitewater Life Jacket Survivor Story, by Pamela Doty, identified by DVIDS, must comply with the restrictions shown on https://www.dvidshub.net/about/copyright.
Abby Turnbull told us she’s the one in this header image wearing the Tennessee Hat about to be the second person thrown into the river. In Abby Turnbull’s words, “It was a wonderful sunny day in July 2019 exploring the Nantahala National Forest in North Carolina where the Nantahala River offers lower-class whitewater rafting opportunities. The approximately two-hour float down Class I and Class II rapids offers novices like me the chance to experience whitewater rafting without the risks and challenges of navigating rivers with higher-class rapids. I was excited about experiencing whitewater rafting for my very first time and I felt quite at ease knowing I was in the company of great friends, including not one, but two experienced guides to lead me on my new adventure. The entire trip down the river was amazing and being with experienced guides who knew how to make the trip safe yet exciting while at the same time acting as naturalists pointing out various plant species was well beyond what I expected. At times, we experienced roller-coaster like rides over the Class II rapids, which was very thrilling indeed. At other times, we drifted lazily in the warm sunshine through slowly moving tranquil pools, which gave us time to warm up after being splashed by the cold waters. The greatest challenge occurs at the end of the trip where rafters are faced with the only Class III rapid on the route right before beaching their raft at the outfitter’s base. Just before reaching the Class III rapid, there is an option to beach your raft and walk back to the outfitters. Of course we did not choose this option, and all was well, until we dropped down this last rapid. Near the bottom, I as well as two others, were thrown from the raft into the chilling waters. I suddenly found myself trapped under the bottom of the raft and completely disoriented for what seemed like an eternity. A safety video that is required viewing before every trip explains that you should lift up your feet if you find yourself in the water. The combination of getting your feet trapped in rocks and the power of the river’s flow can force you under the water and hold you there with fatal consequences. Upon finding myself in the water unexpectedly, my immediate instinct was to keep my feet raised as high as I could while I struggled to find a way out of my watery nightmare. I later learned that those left in the raft were frantically attempting to rescue the other two and were desperately scanning the waters in search of me. When my PFD [life jacket] finally popped me up to the surface of the water, I was grabbed by the straps on my life jacket and hauled back into the raft. I was partially in shock from the experience and it took a minute or two to become re-oriented to my situation. Quite a bit of blood was dripping off the end of my left middle finger and it appeared to be broken due to the unnatural angle. My fingernail was hanging by a thread and was later removed at the hospital emergency room. While the experience ended in a near tragedy, I would not hesitate to go again. And yes, even though wearing a properly- fitted PFD is required by the outfitter I would never think of not wearing one. The other two who were thrown from the raft were immediately popped to the surface of the water by their PFDs, which allowed them to be quickly rescued. Calm waters or not, I highly recommend everyone wear their PFD at all times. Once you are thrown into the water, it’s too late to try and put one on!!! I do not want anyone mourning for me and I shudder to think what could have happened if I had not been wearing my PFD!”