Officials Warn Boaters of Dangerous Flow on Arkansas River

May 29, 2007

Swift currents on the Arkansas River is continuing to pose a danger to boaters, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reissued a warning as the state records more boating-related deaths this year than in all of 2006.

The corps issued a small-craft advisory for the Arkansas River. The river was moving about 100,000 to 150,000 cubic feet per second Sunday morning. Advisories are issued when the river gets to 70,000 cubic feet per second.

The fast-moving water carries debris and channel markers may bob or go missing. The flow gradually will slow down but will remain dangerous over the next several days, the National Weather Service at North Little Rock says.

Boating Education Coordinator Bob Cushing of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission says some of the boating accidents this year have been related to weather, but these accidents typically occur when people aren’t being careful.

Nine people have died so far this year in boating accidents. The total was eight for the entire year last year. Officials don’t know why the fatality figure is up.

In prior years, the number of deaths in boating-related accidents ranged from six to 13.

More than 200,000 boats are registered in Arkansas, according to the state Office of Motor Vehicles.

Boaters must carry personal flotation devices for each person on board, and children 12 or younger must wear a life jacket while on a boat.

Anyone, regardless of age, can operate a boat, but state law requires boaters born after 1985 to complete a boating education course before operating a boat.

Maj. Stephanie Weatherington, boating law administrator for the state, says officials can’t forbid people to stay off the water.

“All we can do is just be out there with them also, and if somebody gets in trouble, hopefully get there in time to help them out,” Weatherington says. “We’re keeping our fingers crossed. I hope that we’ve had our last fatality for this year.”

In March, three Morrilton residents drowned after their boat capsized during a weekend fishing trip to Lake Cargile. Police said Tina Petty, 35; her husband, Joseph “Tony” Petty, 42; and her brother, Tim Moses, 38, were not wearing life jackets.

Deloris Smith, 56, of Jonesboro drowned and her husband suffered hypothermia when their boat sank in rough water and high winds while they were boating on Lake Norfork.

Other boating deaths this year occurred on Lake Conway in Faulkner County, Lake Hamilton in Garland County, Lake Chicot in Chicot County, Lake Maumelle in Pulaski County and a private pond in Miller County, Weatherington says.

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