Arkansas wildlife officials are urging boaters to avoid a section of a river in the northern part of the state after a sinkhole opened up and created a dangerous whirlpool that led to a man’s death.
Officials with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission confirmed in a statement that a man was killed Saturday afternoon in “a fatal boating accident” when the sinkhole opened up near the Spring River’s Sadler Falls near Dead Man’s Curve. The 57-mile-long river, which runs through Arkansas and Missouri, is known for water sports, such as canoeing, kayaking and rafting, and fishing.
Arkansas Game and Fish Commission spokesman Trey Reid said Monday that the victim has been identified as Donald Wright, 64, from Searcy, Arkansas. Though the details remain unclear, Reid said witnesses reported that when the sinkhole opened and formed the whirlpool, boaters were ejected from their boats. The victim, who was in a kayak, paddled toward the whirlpool to try to help them.
Officials said the sinkhole opened up in the river bed near Sadler Falls, which is about 150 miles northeast of Little Rock.
The U.S. Geological Survey states that sinkholes occur when groundwater dissolves bedrock — such as carbonate rock, limestone or salt beds — creating open spaces underground. When the ground can no longer support itself, it collapses, creating a depression — or a sinkhole, according to the USGS.
When this happens underwater, it can create circular currents, such as whirlpools.
Reid, from the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, said that in such cases when the riverbed breaks away, the water must go somewhere and, in the process, creates a current “like a bathtub drain.”
Video showed a flip-flop, a plastic water bottle and other debris swirling around it.
Workers from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and Fulton County installed buoys Saturday to secure the area around the whirlpool, according to the statement from the commission.
The commission said that local residents and tourists can still access Spring River but should avoid the barricaded area.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spokeswoman Laurie Driver said in a statement Monday that the agency is working with the county to help find a solution.
“We are assisting the county by providing contact information for agencies which may be able to assist with the sinkhole on the Spring River,” it read. “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.”