tubing

THE ISSUE

Fifty-five people stranded at a tubing event were rescued Saturday by emergency responders and other boaters along the Susquehanna River, LNP reported. The Susquehanna “Anything That Floats” Tubing Adventure attracted more than 500 people. Rescue boats were initially deployed for a person with a broken ankle on one of the islands. Then, numerous personal rafts reportedly became stranded on the islands or in the water across from Riverfront Park in East Donegal Township. According to Adam Kosheba, chief of Maytown-East Donegal Township Fire Department, rescue efforts were slowed briefly by the drinking and uncooperative behavior of some of the event participants.

Perhaps we can get the obvious out of the way first: Water and alcohol are always a bad combination.

And this is not us making something out of nothing. When the fire chief says alcohol consumption hampered the rescue effort, it’s a problem.

Now, to the broader issue.

The Susquehanna was moving quicker than normal Saturday due to the previous night’s rain.

We had — depending on whose numbers you believe — anywhere from 500 to 600 people floating down the river on “anything that floats,” including devices that looked more suited to a backyard pool or bathtub than a moving body of water.

Conoy Township Supervisor Stephen Mohr, who watched the event, told LNP he had “never seen that many individual floating devices in one group.” Mohr’s thoughts weren’t inspired by awe or admiration. He was concerned.

So, as he told LNP staff writer Lindsey Blest, as the event began, he called the Susquehanna Regional Police Department, which seemed unaware of the event.

“For an event like this, there should have been rescue personnel on the water, so that they could render aid to anyone that had a problem,” Mohr told LNP.

He’s right. There should have been. This had all the makings of a disaster.

One shudders at the thought of what we might be writing about today, if not for the efforts of the first responders and the resourcefulness of private boaters.

As you might imagine, we’ve received a lot of feedback about the event and the rescue. Most of the online commenters take event organizers and participants to task.

“I have been fly fishing since I was 10. After 29 years on the water I can tell you that proper planning and knowing the water (especially a large river) is paramount,” writes Brian Trussell, on LancasterOnline.

“I’m sure this event is fun but was poorly handled and the participants have absolutely zero respect for the river. In that kind of water (high and muddy) a high volume event such as this should have been postponed.”

It’s hard to argue with him.

(By the way, as LNP reported, organizer Nick Finicle posted on the event’s Facebook page an apology and thanks to the rescue crews. He could not be reached for comment.)

A big part of the problem was that the river was moving too fast. Floaters missed the exit point and started to panic.

“They were are the mercy of the river,” Mohr said.

Will Long, one of the floaters who was rescued, told LNP that he assumed there would be more people on the water to help out in the event something went wrong.

“I believe it would be best, if this does happen again, that the local fire departments and rescue operations are made aware.”

That might be, and perhaps should be a very big “if” after Saturday’s fiasco.

If this going to happen again, rescue crews need to be out and on the water; weather needs to be monitored and taken seriously; and flotation devices need to meet safety standards.

We’re not, despite occasional accusations, anti-fun. And we encourage everyone to treasure and enjoy our natural resources.

But we don’t want to see someone get killed.

No, this wasn’t a tragedy, and we’re very thankful no one was seriously injured. But it was much too close a call.

Organizers of events like this need to remember that “anything that floats” can also sink.

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