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Cherokee Fire & Rescue recover body of kayaker from Oconaluftee River on Thursday

After overturning her Kayak near Smokemount Campground in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, 34-year-old Ohio resident Megan Thompson drowned in the Oconaluftee River in Cherokee. 

They were notified at 2:18 p.m. Feb. 24 by Thompson’s companions that she had disappeared underwater and not resurfaced. Cherokee Swiftwater Techs entered the river and were able to extricate the victim from the underwater obstruction in a timely manner. Unfortunately, the kayaker had succumbed to her injuries. Cherokee Tribal EMS, Cherokee PD, and the National Park Service assisted.

“According to witnesses, Thompson floated over swift rapids before being pinned between a fallen tree and the riverbank,” GSMNP Spokesperson Dana Soehn said. “At 2:57 p.m., emergency responders freed Thompson’s body and removed her from the river where she was pronounced dead by the medical examiner.”

Soehn said that drowning is the third leading cause of death in the Smokies. Vehicle accidents and plane accidents are the top two causes.

“This is the first fatality in the park in 2022 and the 61st drowning on record,” Soehn said.

According to the GSMNP website, water recreation is not recommended in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Drowning is one of the leading causes of death in the park.

Prior to Thomspon, the last reported drowning in the river was in June 2020 when Bulmaro Morales, 32, of Dudley, drowned after he “heroically jumped into the river to save a juvenile family member in distress,” according to the park. 

Serious water-related injuries occur every year in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. These injuries can easily be avoided. Medical assistance for injured persons may be many hours away. Closely supervise children at all times. There are no life-guarded swimming areas in the park.

River levels can rise rapidly after heavy rainfall. A localized thunderstorm dumping rain far upstream on the park’s highest peaks can create sudden and unexpected flood conditions at lower elevations. 

For more information about water safety in the park, visit 

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