FAYETTE COUNTY, WV (WVNS) — Two people died in separate rafting accidents in Fayette County over the last week.

According to the National Parks Service, the first incident on September 7, 2023, happened when a private rafting party flipped over near the Class V Iron Ring Rapid. The raft reportedly turned over, tossing three rafters overboard. While two of those thrown over were able to swim to shore safely, one was not.

Norman LaHugh Cassell, 62, of Richmond, Virginia was unconscious in the water. He was pulled to the shore by an off-duty rafting guide, which is when CPR was immediately given. Cassell was pronounced dead shortly after first responders arrived on scene.

According to the NPS press release, this day was a training day for raft guides. Cassell’s official cause of death remains under investigation by WV Office of the Medical Examiner.

The second accident happened two days later on September 9, 2023, when NPS Rangers received reports of a rafter being reportedly swept under a rock. Once on scene, it was discovered that the rafter had fallen out of the rafter before being swept under an undercut rock known to many as “Shipwreck Rock”.

In order to rescue the victim, an emergency flow reduction of the Gauley River from the Summersville Dam was requested. Rescuers remained on scene throughout the day to monitor dropping water levels. High amounts of runoff from surrounding areas made the water levels too high to attempt a rescue of the victim.

The victim, Lee Lenora Doyle, 63, of Monterey, Virginia, was the only one of his party in the water. The raft they were in did not flip and nobody else was ever in the water.

The park remains in a “holding pattern” while conditions are being monitored until they improve enough to attempt a body recovery.

The following first responder agencies helped in the events:

  • Ansted Volunteer Fire Department
  • Oak Hill Fire Volunteer Department
  • Fayetteville Volunteer Fire Department
  • Jan Care Ambulance
  • WV Division of Natural Resources
  • U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
  • Fayette County Rope Rescue Team
  • Beaver Volunteer Fire Department Dive Team

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