Seven people went for a moonlit paddle on Lake Wallenpaupack, Friday night, with two canoes. A mishap occurred. One of the canoeists never made it to shore alive.
None of them were wearing life jackets.
Richard Groo, captain of the Tafton Dive Team, said that they were dispatched at about 11:40 p.m. Friday night. Tafton, Ledgedale and Forest Volunteer fire company dive teams assembled and diligently searched the cold autumn waters for the lost boater. After spending about three and a half hours that night, they were back at the lake at about daybreak Saturday, and searched all day. Sunday came, with the dive teams back on duty soon after sunrise.
They finally retrieved the body Sunday at around 12:30 p.m.
The deceased was identified as Ben Culton, age 24, a resident of Harleysville, Pa., in Montgomery County.
How the incident occurred was not clear but may have occurred when one canoe flipped over, and the occupants grabbed on to the second canoe, causing it to turn over as well.
Groo said that one of the canoeists called 9-1-1 from a cell phone from the canoe. The location of the incident could be narrowed down by tracking the G.P.S. coordinates of the cell phone. The canoeists were about 300 to 400 feet off Seeley's Landing.
A couple of the canoeists had to be transported to an area hospital for hypothermia, Groo said.
The air temperature late Friday night was 39 degrees; the water temperature was 42 degrees, Groo said. In those conditions, even with their wet suits, the divers could stay under water only 20 to 30 minutes at a time.
Tafton Dive Team makes use of a Remotely Controlled Vehicle (ROV) and a side scan sonar, both of which were deployed. They needed to be sure the surface boats were not right over where the divers went in, and in the end, it was the divers who located the victim, Groo stated.
Culton's body was located about on the lake bottom, about 17 feet down.
The family of the victim came on scene. Groo said it was a sad situation, and the need for them to look for the apparent drowning victim was something they train to do. He said they were greatly relieved to recover the body, both for the family and for the divers.
None of the canoeists were wearing life jackets, and did not even have them in the canoes, he said,. Life jackets, Groo noted, are life seat belts. They save lives.
He expressed thanks for the great support from the community. Ehrhardt's Restaurant and Lake Region IGA supplied breakfast and Pocono Pizza supplied pizza. Tafton Fire Company Ladies Auxiliary also assisted the rescue teams in need of refreshment.
He stated that they very good turnout, both from divers and land support. He estimated there were 40 to 60 personnel on scene Saturday, and 45 on Sunday.
Page 2 of 2 - This was the second drowning in Lake Wallenpaupack in 2013. The first was in April, when a fisherman separated from his row boat and drowned. Dive teams managed to get through the busy summer season without any incident of this nature in the lake.
[Editor's note: Special thanks to Dennis Giacobe, a local photographer and Lakewatch Assistance volunteer, for contributing these photographs to The News Eagle.]