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Man Drowns at Elk River Falls Sunday

By Tim Gardner

A second drowning in just over a month has occurred at the Elk River Falls in Avery County.

According to a press release from Avery County Sheriff Kevin Frye, Gogineni Nagarjuna, 32, of Charlotte, was swimming with friends Sunday afternoon at the base of the falls after jumping in from the side.

Nagarjuna struggled, went under and did not resurface. Avery County emergency first responders were notified at 5:05 p.m., the release stated.

Divers recovered the body a couple hours later. It was transported to the medical examiner’s office in Lenoir, also according to the release.

The responding departments to the incident included Linville Central Rescue Squad, Avery County Emergency Management, Avery Emergency Medical Services, Elk Park Fire Department, Avery County Sheriff’s Department and a rescue team from Mitchell County. Fall Creek Fire Department had some volunteers who assisted with traffic control.

Another drowning at the falls occurred on May 20. Avery Emergency and Rescue personnel believe that victim, Thomas McCardle Jr., 26, of Ohio, slid into the water at the bottom of the falls and was pulled under by a powerful current. That incident resulted in recovery efforts severely hindered by an extended period of heavy rainfall that made the falls treacherous for rescue teams to conduct their search. Ultimately the body rose to the surface after another round of rain ten days later.

Deaths and serious injuries have regularly happened at the Elk River Falls, located in Elk Park. Signage around the falls discourages jumping from, or swimming near the falls, as rocks and strong currents are potentially fatal hazards.

Sheriff Frye’s press release noted jumping from the rocks above the falls has been the primary cause of death or serious injury for several people there in the past, but he added that the recent deaths have been swimming accidents.

Sheriff Frye added another statement of caution for all who swim or jump from the rocks at Elk River Falls. “I strongly discourage anyone to jump from, or swim, near the falls,” he said. “Those who decide to do either or both should be extremely careful. Those trying either can suffer very serious injuries or lose their lives.”

The Avery County Sheriff Department, along with others, made a video with the U.S. Forest Service to warn people of the dangers at Elk River Falls. The video can be accessed at www.facebook.com/nfsnc/videos and clicking the link marked “Elk River Falls.”