‘The river can be very dangerous’: Weekend White River rescues raise concern

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NOBLESVILLE, Ind. — The White River has crested, and water levels are back to safer levels as of Monday evening, around six and a half feet.

Compare that to nearly 10 feet this weekend, when crews with the Noblesville Fire Department had to make two separate rescues. 

“We want people to remember that the river is always dangerous even when it’s low, and they should respect it,” Noblesville Fire Department Division Chief Trevor Hash said. “When the river’s up, it’s really just not worth going out on it. Wait for it to crest and come back down, and then you can have a nice, pleasant day on the water that way.”

Several groups didn’t heed that advice this weekend when heavy rains caused the White River to rise near flood levels. 

“We had a couple rescues. One group got hung up on a tree, and we had to go pull them onto our boats and then bring them to safety, and another group actually missed their landing. They were supposed to get off right here, and they went down and hung onto a tree until they could call for help,” Hash said. “If the river is still going up, like it was then, you do not want to be on the river at that time.”

Call it luck or good timing, the department just so happened to be out on the river training not too far from the situation when the calls came in. 

“Well, the only way to practice on high water is to go out when the water’s high,” Hash said. “Our crews were taking advantage of the high water to get some good training in and happened to be in the right place at the right time.”

Brian Cooley, CEO & founder of OEI White River Canoe Company, makes his money on the river renting tubes, kayaks and canoes, unless the water levels aren’t safe to do so. 

“We always hope that folks won’t get on the river when it’s like that. We turned away a lot of folks this weekend. We lost, it woulda been, it woulda been a few thousand,” Cooley said. “Could you sleep with the fact that you’re gonna put people out there, for me, more than outweighs the profit motive. Doing the right thing is, I preach it to people, it’s the only thing to do.”

For the hundreds turned away this weekend who had already paid for float trips on the river, they’ve been given vouchers redeemable for up to a year.

“Do your homework before you go out for a weekend on the river,” Cooley said. “I have a saying, ‘Mother Nature has no natural predator,’ right? So we don’t dial up the weather. If we could, I like 75 to 78, and I like four and a half feet of water, but it’s a wild river, not a water park.”

Before heading out on the White River, experts urge you to check water conditions on the White River Alliance website to see if it’s safe to do so.

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