Body of drowning victim recovered


Photo By Kim Coleman, U.S. Forestry Service
Rescue crews search the Twisted Falls area of the Elk River for the body of 21-year-old Brian K. Ellinwood who disappeared Saturday afternoon while swimming with friends. Inset: Twisted Falls, where Ellinwood went under while attempting to swim behind the wall of water.

By Julie Fann
star staff
jfann@starhq.com

  Rescue crews recovered Sunday night the body of a 21-year-old Appalachian State University student who became trapped underneath the power of a 50-foot waterfall Saturday afternoon in the Elk River while swimming with friends in a treacherous area. Carter County Sheriff John Henson said a volunteer diver from Unicoi County who frequently helps the county recover drowning victims found the body at 9:45 p.m., just 12 minutes after he entered the water.
  "Dennis Needleman is one of the best divers around," Henson said as soon as Needleman arrived on the scene around 7 p.m. Sunday. "I guarantee you it won't take him long to find the body once he gets in there."
  The search for Brian Tye Ellinwood, of Clay County, N.C., began around 2 p.m. Saturday when 9-1-1 Communications Center workers received a call. Ellinwood and approximately 10 other ASU students were swimming at Twisted Falls, located in an extremely remote area of the Poga community near Elk Mills, when Ellinwood disappeared.
  According to Henson, Ellinwood and two other males swam behind the water fall from the side. When they tried to exit, Ellinwood became trapped by the force of the fall and the current pushed him underneath and wouldn't let him go.
  "One of his friends got ahold of him and tried to save him, but he couldn't hold onto him," Henson said. "The place is about four to five feet behind the falls, and the water is churning real hard in there."
  Henson said Ellinwood's family had been notified and the body would be transported by the Carter County Rescue Squad to the Quillen College of Medicine for autopsy.
  CCRS member Anthony Roberts called the rescue effort "a nightmare" due to having to approach the falls from a narrow trail down a 700 to 800-foot embankment and then battle a swift river that is two feet higher than normal from the remnants of Hurricanes Ivan and Jeanne.
  "The ground is just real uneven. It's at about an 80-degree slope with river rock on both sides. The water is about 20 to 30 feet deep around the falls, and there's rocky ledges. The force of the water, the hydraulics, is awful," Roberts said. "It's a very dangerous area."
  Carter County Rescue Squad members had planned to place fencing around the falls that would catch and hold the body if it washed against it. CCRS Director Terry Arnold said crews had used pike hose and grab hooks to drag the river in an inflatable raft, and swimmers had searched the area.
  Rescue authorities said the ASU students possibly knew about the remote location of Twisted Falls from a book on popular swimming holes in the Southeast. A volunteer at the rescue scene, Jason Clawson, whose father is the director of the Elk Mills Volunteer Fire Department, also knew about the book and said it explains exactly how to get down to the falls. "It even mentions this barn here, and where to turn to get down there," Clawson said. "I don't even go down in there, and I live here."
  In addition to the CCSD and CCRS, members of the U.S. Forestry Service, Elk Mills Volunteer Fire Department, Hampton Volunteer Fire Department, Dry Run Volunteer Fire Department of Johnson County, and the Kingsport Lifesaving Crew also assisted in the search.
  CCRS members were also involved in a search Saturday that began around 5 p.m. for two 13-year-old Boy Scouts who got separated from their Pineville, N.C. troop in Carver's Gap, off of U.S. Highway 143 in Roan Mountain. CCRS officials said the troop's Cub Master finally found the boys around 1 p.m. Sunday around Yellow Mountain, near Hump Mountain, the troop's destination.
  "Apparently they heard us (CCRS members) yelling for them, but they had pitched their tent and didn't come out. They didn't know anyone was searching for them. They were fine. They had backpacks and everything, and one of them was an experienced camper, so they just pitched their tent and slept the night," Roberts said. "Their Cub Master finally found them."