Six people are lucky to be alive after their raft went over the falls at Ohiopyle State Park in Fayette County over the weekend.
Park manager Ken Bisbee said the six, who are from the Pittsburgh and Monroeville areas, had bruises and scrapes after being rescued from a swollen Youghiogheny River on Saturday afternoon when their raft tumbled over the 20-foot-high falls near the park’s visitors center.
“Where they went over was probably one of the (best) places to go over,” he said. “That was a really good spot.”
A video posted to Facebook shows onlookers yelling “Oh, my God” and screaming as the raft disappeared over the falls near visitor overlook areas.
The rafters all had life vests on, which was a huge part of their survival, Bisbee said. Some lost articles of clothing in the churning water.
“The force of rushing water is pretty powerful,” he said.
Park staff, local outfitters and a river rescue team helped pull members of the group from the water after they apparently missed a sign on the river before Ohiopyle that advises boaters to exit the water into a parking lot near the Great Allegheny Passage. Additional signs warn of the waterfall as the river winds into Ohiopyle where boats are prohibited, Bisbee said.
“They didn’t see any of those,” he said.
The group rented the boat from a local outfitting group and were rafting on the Middle Yough’s Class I and II rapids where guides are not required, he said. The river is high — flowing close to 5 feet compared to an average of 2 feet this time of year — and the group made the trip a lot quicker than they anticipated, Bisbee said.
As the rafters floated into Ohiopyle, people on the banks started yelling at them about 4:30 p.m. The group paddled to the left first and then to the right but weren’t able to make it to the banks, he said. They tumbled over the falls just to the right of center, a spot that is free from rocks.
“Emergency response was almost instantaneous,” Bisbee said.
Bisbee was grateful for the positive outcome.
Two Ohiopyle whitewater rafting guides were awarded Carnegie Hero medals in April for rescuing two women in 2017. Eric Martin and Patrick Nolan McCarty, both of Ohiopyle, rescued Arnetta D. Johnson, 55, and Raecyne W. Bechtold, 45, when their whitewater raft overturned on the Youghiogheny River.
The two women flowed past the take-out point on June 26, 2017, and became stuck at a bridge pier in the middle of the river. The two men took single-person kayaks without safety gear and rescued the pair before the waterfall.