5 killed, 4 injured in boat collision in the Wilmington River, witness describes the scene

5 killed, 4 injured in boat collision in the Wilmington River, DNR investigates
5 killed, 4 injured in boat collision in the Wilmington River, DNR investigates(WTOC)
Published: May. 30, 2022 at 5:25 PM EDT
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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - A community is mourning and an investigation is underway after 5 people died in a boat collision in the Wilmington River Saturday around 10:30 a.m.

The Georgia DNR says they’re in the examination phase, looking at the two boats involved and piecing together how it all happened.

WTOC spoke with DNR officials who say they are photographing, documenting and processing the boats.

They’re looking for anything that can paint them a picture of what exactly happened.

This process is tedious and can take months and some of it also requires them to obtain things like search warrants.

The DNR says the two boats collided in the area between the Thunderbolt bridge and where the Oatland Island Wildlife Center backs up to the Wilmington River.

Immediately following the crash, Saturday, two people were pronounced dead on the scene, 4 were taken to the hospital and 3 were missing.

On Sunday morning the three missing boaters were found. DNR crediting sonar technology as what helped find them.

5 of the victims have been identified as part of the same family.

Chris and Lori Leffler and their two sons Nathan and Zachary. Their daughter was also on the same boat as well as a friend.

The two of them survived.

The other boat carried Robert Chauncey who died and two others who survived.

The scene Saturday at the Thunderbolt boat ramp was described as “controlled chaos” by Earl Gantt who works at the Thunderbolt Bait House at the ramp.

He says he stood and watched as agency after agency show up to assist. He says he even saw a body pulled out from the water.

While the boat ramp, Gantt says, was closed for the majority of the day Saturday and then for a bit Sunday, it is open Monday and has been all day.

However, not a lot of people have come to head out on the water.

Gantt says this is very unusual here because it’s usually packed on a beautiful day and, especially, on a holiday.

“As you can see I don’t know where everybody’s gone to,” Earl Gantt, Witnessed Recover Response said.

“So this is much quieter than it ever normally is?

“Yes. This is very quiet. Very quiet,” Gantt said.

Gantt says in the 15 years he’s worked here he’s never seen the boat ramp be shut down.

He says maybe people just weren’t sure if it was back open today and they chose to avoid the area.

Earl Gantt also says this was the worst incident he’s ever seen in the Wilmington River and that it was “harrowing.”

Calvary Day School setup a memorial fund for the family. You can donate here.

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