The Transylvania Times -

Deadly Waterfalls


July 9, 2018

Every summer, people slide over one of our many waterfalls to their death. Tragically, this summer has proven to be no different.

The two fatalities thus far this summer have been at Rainbow Falls in the upper end of the county. On July 4, 16-year-old H’Money Siu of Charlotte went over the falls and died. On June 23, 42-year-old John Shaffer also died at Rainbow Falls.

Both victims were trying to save others. Sui apparently was trying to save an 11-year-old family member who was struggling in the water above the falls. Schaffer was trying to retrieve his dog that had been swept downstream. Many of us, in hopes of saving a loved one, probably would have done the same. One never knows until one is put in that situation.

Once again, managers of public lands and local officials are asking what can be done to stop the annual deaths. Signs have been posted throughout the public parks and forests warning people of the dangers of waterfalls. Signs can’t be much more blunt than their message to “stay on marked trails. Serious injuries and deaths have occurred beyond this point.”

The Transylvania County Tourism Development Authority (TCTDA) has joined with public lands management to promote safety messages through various media. Yet, media campaigns do not reach all, and oftentimes, people either miss or ignore the warning signs.

Certainly there are a number of factors that contribute to waterfall deaths. People from outside this region simply do not understand the dangers inherent in nature, and waterfalls in particular. Some people simply do not think. All too often, visitors to the forest can be seen walking or jumping from one rock to another across a river, unaware that a slick rock is hazardous.

Another factor is that visitors may see photos or videos of people sliding down or jumping off small waterfalls. Some of the best swimming holes in the county, such as Turtleback Falls and Skinny Dip Falls, are waterfalls. Some people, incorrectly, may not differentiate the dangers each waterfall may represent.

While all waterfalls are potentially deadly, Rainbow Falls seems to be the most deadly in this county. One reason is its height – 150 feet. Any fall from that height is bound to be fatal. A tumble over much smaller waterfalls, such as Hooker Falls in DuPont State Recreational Forest, could be fatal, but the probabilities of surviving such a fall are much greater.

At this point, it may be prudent for the Forest Service to close off all trails, no matter who made them, to the top of waterfalls. We frequently tell people that waterfalls should be viewed only from the bottom, but as long as there are trails to the top and people see other visitors peering down at them from the top of a waterfall, the allure to get a view from the top remains.

If that doesn’t work, then maybe either paid staff or volunteers can be stationed near the top of the most dangerous waterfalls, such as Rainbow Falls, to stop people.

Our waterfalls make this county unique. It is one reason people visit and live here. We should be able to view them. However, we need to find some way to prevent these deaths that seem to be occurring more frequently every year.


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