PARKERSBURG - A rafting trip on West Virginia's New River Gorge National River last weekend turned into a sobering experience for one Parkersburg family when a Maryland woman drowned in a rafting accident a few yards away.
C.J. Vaughan, 28, and his family were enjoying a rafting excursion Saturday morning with Alpine Adventures when a raft in their group overturned on the first rapid, knocking several people overboard.
One of those thrown overboard, Judy Brown of Cumberland, Md., drowned after becoming entrapped in an area known as Detroit Rock, according to a press release from the National Park Service.
Vaughan and his wife and his father, along with Vaughan's stepmother and step-siblings, were nearby when the accident occurred. There were eight rafts in the group.
"We were one of the first rafts to hit the first rapid, which wasn't huge. We came out of it just fine, but one of the last rafts in our group flipped over," said Vaughan. "We heard a whistle, which meant there was someone in the water or there was some kind of situation, so we paddled back upstream in case we could be of assistance."
After a while, Vaughan said all the rafts were instructed to paddle to the riverbank and wait.
"At that point, we weren't really sure what was going on," he said. "Finally, someone got us together and told us one person was not accounted for."
After some discussion, the guides decided to discontinue to raft trip and load everyone on buses bound for base camp.
"They explained a woman had been trapped and she was taken to the hospital," he said. "They did not tell us at the time that the accident was fatal. We learned after we got home that she had died."
Although Vaughan has been rafting several times on the New River, he said the experience has made him uncertain about whether he will go again in the future.
"I'm undecided at this point about whether I will go again. It was definitely a scary situation, being there and realizing we could have been in that raft," said Vaughan.
"But the guides take every safety precaution possible; they have the best equipment and the best life jackets money can buy. You're just as likely to have an accident rafting than when driving down the road.
"It's very tragic, but I would hate this situation to steer anyone away from a rafting experience."
The National Park Service and the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources are investigating the accident.