UPDATE: Body of missing swimmer recovered near Wilmington Flume
Video of the Flume Sunday morning, about 30 hours before the rescue call was received:
WILMINGTON — Just before recovery efforts hit the 24-hour mark, rescuers were able to retrieve the body of a man who is believed to have drowned in the Ausable River Monday afternoon.
Essex County coroner Frank Whitelaw confirmed that the body of Matthew Miller, 31, of Ithaca had been recovered at 2:10 p.m. Whitelaw said an autopsy would be scheduled at Adirondack Medical Center in Saranac Lake.
Police said the incident is being investigated as a drowning, as Miller was with friends swimming when he went under water at the swimming hole, known to most as the “Wilmington Flume.” Whitelaw added that the initial rescue call came in around 3 p.m. on Monday.
Tuesday afternoon behind yellow caution tape draped across the entrance to the swimming hole’s lower set of falls, several vehicles from state police, the coroner’s office, the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s Forest Rangers and Wilmington Fire Rescue remained on scene.
Rescue personnel used a Zodiac inflatable fire rescue boat in the raging whitewater, Whitelaw said, dropping poles with cameras attached to the end into the water to help find Miller’s body.
The coroner added that he believes Miller likely instantly sank after he jumped in from a popular jumping spot that typically is situated 15 feet above the AuSable River’s cascading whitewater surface. The coroner estimated the spot is typically about 12-feet deep, though those numbers could have been altered due to the heavy deluge of rain the area experienced in the days and weeks leading up to what was a mostly dry and sunny Fourth of July holiday weekend.
Whitelaw emphasized that the increased aerated nature of the flume where Miller jumped in would make it very difficult for anyone to successfully swim back to surface if and when the whitewater forced him downward.
“This is the exact same spot where the Plattsburgh kids (drown in 2014),” Whitelaw said. “It’s in the flume at its most rapid part.”
Whitelaw was alluding to another tragic summertime incident at this location three years ago where two Plattsburgh teens drowned in the same location.
Whitelaw added that a woman who tried to save the man Monday also struggled with the dangerous waters, but was able to get out of the river safely. State police Captain Robert LaFountain relayed the same information earlier Tuesday morning.
“He was among a bunch of campers,” the coroner said earlier Tuesday morning, and they had been jumping in, but apparently at some point he ran into trouble and never got out.”
The Flume has two sets of waterfalls, and people often jump into the river above the lower set of falls, which was the location draped off with caution tape Tuesday. Cars were parked along the entrance to the “Flume Trails” Tuesday as some vacationers walked by in swimming trunks and towels hoping to swim at the spot before turning back when coming across the taped off scene.
Those swimming at the popular spot this weekend chose to do so after weeks of rain resulted in high water levels throughout the AuSable River Watershed. The U.S. Geological Survey water gauge on the AuSable River in AuSable Forks showed a large spike in flow mid-day on Friday. River flow is measured in cubic feet per second (cfs), and the median flow rate for the AuSable River, based on 85 years of data, is somewhere in the mid-300 cfs for the month of June. On Friday, the flow rate was clocked at more than 10,000 cfs.
The National Weather Service in Burlington also showed that June was one of the wettest on record. In Burlington, Vermont, rainfall in June was almost 3.5 inches higher than normal (seventh highest rain fall total in history), and that didn’t include the heavy thunderstorms Friday and Saturday. On Saturday, Pawlet, Vermont, which sits just over the state border not far from Lake George got 4.15 inches of rain in a 24-hour period.