Archived Outdoors

Kayaker dies on Oconaluftee

The drowning occurred near Smokemont Campground. NPS photo The drowning occurred near Smokemont Campground. NPS photo

A kayaker died yesterday while paddling the Oconaluftee River near Smokemont Campground in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

At about 2:18 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 24, friends of Megan Thompson, 34, of Cleveland Heights, Ohio, notified rangers that she had disappeared underwater and did not resurface. According to witnesses, Thompson floated over swift rapids before being pinned between a fallen tree and the riverbank.

Park rangers and Tribal EMS Cherokee Fire and Rescue responded to the scene. At 2:57 p.m., responders freed Thompson’s body and removed her from the river, where she was pronounced dead by a medical examiner.

While rare, drowning is the third leading cause of death for the Smokies, after motor vehicle accidents and plane accidents. Thompson’s death marks the first fatality in the park for 2022 and the 61st drowning on record. For information on water safety in the Smokies, visit

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