SC officials stress river safety after 17-year-old drowns on the Congaree

Updated: Jul. 24, 2020 at 7:23 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - This week’s drowning of 17-year old Javion Cannon near the Thomas Newman Public Boat landing is highlighting the importance of river safety.

Cayce Department of Public Safety says crews were in the river Wednesday within 12 minutes of receiving the call, but they were still too late to save him. While searching for Cannon, officials say they did make one rescue.

“We actually observed a tube floating down the river,” said Cayce DPS Sergeant Evan Antley.

Antley says his team saw a middle-aged man get knocked off of his tube, and he quickly began to struggle in the water. He wasn’t wearing a life jacket, but a Columbia Swiftwater Rescue boat was able to pull him out of the water.

“We saved his life and, I’ll say this, the river is just a different type of body of water,” Antley explained. “For people who swim on ponds and lakes and things like that, to go out there and swim in that river is a whole different monster, even for us at public safety.”

This summer, officials say more people have flocked to the Congaree River to cool off and enjoy the scenery, and Columbia Fire Department has responded to dozens of rescue calls already.

“About two weeks ago, we actually pulled nine people off the river in a two-hour period,” said Columbia Fire Captain Bryan Spitzer.

Regardless of your swimming expertise, officials say everyone should wear a life jacket on the river.

“I wouldn’t attempt to go waist deep without having some sort of flotation device to try and save someone because you just never know if you’re going to step on a slippery rock or get into a deeper part of the river. You might go from waist deep and take one step and it will be over your head and it’s unforgiving, that moving current. You can’t just turn around and walk back out like you’re at the beach,” explained Sgt. Antley.

If you notice water levels starting to rise on the banks or water moving much faster, officials say you want to get out of the river as quickly as you can because this could mean Dominion Energy is releasing more water from Lake Murray.

“Ankle deep water moving at five miles per hour can knock a good swimmer down and it can be hard for them to recover. So, that’s why we highly recommend knowing what the flow is,” said Spitzer.

Before you head out on the river, officials suggest you check this link on Dominion Energy’s website. This will give you the current conditions and water flow, which is a good indicator of whether or not it’s a safe time to swim, tube, or kayak.

Officials also advise people not to go out on the river alone. If you do have to go by yourself, they say to make sure you give a friend or family member a detailed plan of how long you’ll be out and when you plan to return.

Experts say these may sound like simple suggestions, but they could save your life.

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