Drowning victim recovered from Chattahoochee, officials urge caution on the river

Local News

COLUMBUS, Ga. (WRBL) – The body of a man who drowned Sunday just below the Lake Oliver Dam was recovered Tuesday morning, according to the Columbus Fire and EMS Department.

Officials say the victim was 31-year-old Jose Garcia Ramirez of Honduras. He was swimming and drinking beer with his brother Sunday afternoon when the water began rising.

The two were near a Georgia Power dam when sirens alerting rising water went off about 5:45 Sunday afternoon. Coroner Buddy Bryan tells News 3 that the men did not know what the sirens meant.

The body was found less than a half mile downstream.

Deputy Chief Daniel Macon of the Columbus Fire and EMS says the search was over before it started. Ramirez had been missing for less than two days.

“Approximately 7 a.m. we got a call from Georgia Power that he could possibly be spotted at the gates of the North Highland Dam,” Macon said. “We quickly responded. By 7:30 we extricated the victim from the water.”

This is at least the fourth drowning on this stretch of the Chattahoochee River since 2018.

In April 2018, a father and son both drown when they were fishing off these rocks. The boy fell in and the dad went in after him.

Columbus Fire and EMS Battalion Chief Brice Patterson says there is a reason this part of the Chattahoochee is so treacherous.

“The water will get to you quickly from where we are located now simply because we are less than 500 yards from the dams,” Patterson told News 3.

The issue is the swift current when the dam’s gates are open and water is being released. Unlike downtown where there is time to react to the warning sirens.

Patterson says the key is wear a life jacket – even if you are fishing from the bank.

“This Chattahoochee River is a great asset for Columbus, Georgia,” Pattersonm said. “The fact that it passes right before our city limits. The fact that we have this whitewater venue for Columbus for rafting, for swimming for fishing. It just takes a little common sense and when you are on this river wear a life jacket.”

Patterson has been working rescue missions in this area many times over his 30-year career.

“But with a life jacket on, you are not going to drown,” he said. “It will push you downstream and you will swim out. You eventually get through the rough water, and you swim out. You are fine. But wear a life jacket. You cannot fight moving water and swim in it without a life jacket.”

How effective is the life jacket?

“Columbus Fire and EMS has never had a drowning with somebody with a life jacket on,” Patterson said.

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