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Sinkhole swallows man while kayaking on river

Sydney Borton
Digital Reporter

Friday, June 15, 2018, 11:30 AM - A 64-year-old man has been killed in a boating accident as the result of a sinkhole.

On June 9, Donald "Donny" Wright of Searcy, Arkansas was kayaking in Spring River – a popular location for boating and fishing – when the sinkhole opened up underwater. The force of the sinkhole trapped a canoe in its whirlpool. When Wright tried to help free the canoeist, his kayak flipped and he fell into the whirlpool.

The canoeist survived. Wright, however, died of drowning soon after the accident.

Wright worked as the executive director or Life Recovery Centre in Searcy, a halfway house dedicated to helping people recovering from alcohol and drug addiction. He was on the kayaking trip with other men from the centre. 

“[We are] asking anyone floating the Spring River in Fulton County to avoid the area near Sadler Falls,” said the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission (AGFC) Facebook page. “A sinkhole has opened below the falls near Dead Man’s Curve.”


Sinkholes happen when groundwater dissolves bedrock (carbonate rock, limestone, or salt beds), which creates open cavities underground. When this happens underwater it creates a “bathtub drain” effect; water starts to spin around the sinkhole like a plug being pulled from the drain of a full bathtub, which causes the whirlpool. Depending on the size of the sinkhole and how fast it appeared, the resulting whirlpools can have quite a bit of force.

Credit: wikispaces

Sinkholes are extremely common in areas like Florida, where rocks below the land surface are older and highly soluble. They are common in northern Arkansas as well, but rarely happen underwater.

“I’ve been here for 40 years. This is the first one I’ve ever heard of forming in a river like this,” Bill Prior, a geologist supervisor at the Arkansas Geological Survey told reporters.

To keep boaters away from the sinkhole site, the AGFC installed buoys around the area with the help of workers from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Fulton County.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released a statement on Monday regarding the incident. “We are assisting the country by providing contact information for agencies which may be able to assist with the sinkhole on the Spring River,” said spokeswoman Laurie Driver. “Our Regulatory Division will reach out to the county to provide information on the permitting requirements which may be needed in conjunction with any repair.”


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