Woman drowns while kayaking in Great Smoky Mountains National Park on Thursday

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A 34-year-old woman drowned Feb. 24 in the Oconaluftee River in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, according to a National Park Service statement.

The woman, identified as Megan Thompson, 34, of Cleveland Heights, Ohio, was the first death at the park this year.

Park rangers were assisted by emergency responders from Tribal EMS Cherokee Fire and Rescue during Thompson’s recovery.

They were informed at 2:18 p.m. on February 24 by Thompson’s companions that she had disappeared underwater and had not surfaced along the river near the Smokemont campground on the side of the park in North Carolina.

Continued: Great Smoky Mountains Park sets new record with 14.1 million visitors in 2021

“According to witnesses, Thompson floated over rapid rapids before becoming trapped between a fallen tree and the bank,” the statement said.

“At 2:57 p.m., rescuers released Thompson’s body and pulled her from the river where she was pronounced dead by the medical examiner.”

In June 2020, Bulmaro Morales, 32, of Dudley, also drowned in the Oconaluftee River inside the park after “heroically jumping into the river to save a young family member in distress”, according to the Park.

Related: Man likely killed by bear attack in Great Smoky Mountains National Park: autopsy report

Drowning is the third leading cause of death in the Smokies, after car accidents and plane crashes. This is the 61st drowning ever recorded in the park.

The Smokies span half a million acres of rugged, forested terrain on the border between western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee. It is the most visited national park in the country, with 14.1 million visitors in 2021.

For more information on water safety in the park, visit nps.gov/grsm.

Karen Chávez is a content coach/investigations editor for the Asheville Citizen Times, part of the USA TODAY Network. Advice? Call 828-712-6316, email [email protected] or follow us on Twitter @KarenChavezACT.

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