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Fatal Accident on Bank of Little River

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

National Park News

Don Thralls, 72, of Phoenix, Arizona, died on July 29th when he slipped on rocks along the bank of the Little River, hit his head and fell into the river. Thralls was traveling with his wife and four-year-old grandson at the time. He stopped his car at a pull-off and scrambled down the steep rocky riverbank to the river's edge with his grandson.  Thralls then slipped on the rocks, fell backward, struck his head on the sharp rocks, fell into the river facedown, and was swept downstream about 60 yards and lodged in the current on a submerged rock. Thralls wife was sitting in the car when she heard her grandson yelling for her. She got out of the car and saw her husband floating facedown in the river.  She originally thought he was ok, so she retrieved her grandson from the river bank, then came back up to the road and flagged down a passing motorist. Two motorists scrambled down the riverbank and waded into the river to Thralls. They were able to turn him over and pull him partially up onto a dry rock.  A third motorist was sent for help and drove until he was able to make a call to 911. The park and Gatlinburg Rescue Squad received the call at 11:52 a.m. and arrived on scene at 11:59 a.m. Ranger Greg Wozniak and a Gatlinburg paramedic waded out to Thralls. Upon reaching him, they found that he had suffered a severe open skull fracture and neck injuries. He was not conscious, but did have a pulse and labored breathing. They used a rock in the middle of the river to get Thralls on a long spine board and litter and formed a human chain to pass him to shore and up the steep embankment. Thralls was flown to the UT Medical Center in Knoxville. He went immediately into surgery, but the massive head injury proved to be too extensive. Thralls was pronounced dead by the medical staff at about 9:00 p.m. Ranger Keith Flanery served as incident commander.


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