Fire officials warn of low head dams as kayakers plan to ride the Chattahoochee River

Alabama mother dead after kayaking incident in Chattahoochee River

Fire officials warn of low head dams as kayakers plan to ride the Chattahoochee River

COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) - It was supposed to a fun trip for an Alabama family visiting their relatives in Lagrange over the weekend.

But, 37-year-old Fallon Wells died after her kayak was caught in a low head dam in the Chattahoochee River. Her 11-year-old son was in the kayak with her.

“The husband saw what happened. He got his daughter to safe land. The son had also gone over but he wasn’t in the kayak. He was just in the water. The husband got the son to safe land and then went after his wife,” said Harris County Coroner Joe Weldon.

Emergency crews said they administered CPR and other life saving methods while she was taken to the hospital. Kerry Pickard with the East Alabama Fire District said low head dams are described as the “perfect killing machine.”

“If you were to get caught up in or go over, or even get too close, there’s a buoy line. If you go past that and you get caught up, then you start recirculating like in a washing machine. It just constantly tumbles you over and over,” explained Pickard.

There are three dams on the stretch of the river where the incident happened. Pickard said this incident happened at the Crow Hop Dam.

“If you’re not familiar with it then you may not see it. It just looks like water but then it’s a drop off,” said Pickard.

The dams are built to manage powerhouses with mills, but it creates an elevation change in the water that can be drastic during certain times of the day in the generation schedule.

“It is my understanding from witnesses that we talked to, that’s what happened. When they went over the dam they got caught up in the hydraulics. They were generating that day, so the water levels were extremely high. There was a lot of current. She got hung up in the hydraulic basically,” Pickard explained.

Weldon said his office has worked other calls in the same area.

“This will make the third in over a three-year time period. They were not in the exact same area, but the same general area.”

Pickard said none of the family members were wearing life jackets. He said to stay safe you can always check the generation schedule for when the water will rise throughout the day by calling the Corps of Engineers. Their number is 706-645-2929.

Georgia Power released this statement:

Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family involved in the tragic accident at crow hop dam. Safety at our dams and waterways is our top priority and our team is investigating the incident. The dams were not operating when the incident occurred.

In Georgia Power’s integrated resource plan filing earlier this year, the company is proposing not to renew its operating licenses for the company’s Langdale and Riverview hydro project dams. The dams include Crow Hop Dam, located on the Chattahoochee River in West Georgia. The comapny is initiating a multi-year review process with the federal energy regulatory commission that includes a request for eventual removal of the dams.

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