Man dies kayaking at Great Smoky Mountains beauty spot

The Sinks, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, USA
(Image credit: Getty)

A man has died while kayaking at a popular tourist spot in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Carl Keaney, from Knoxville, Tennessee, was paddling above a waterfall known as the Sinks on Friday 16 December when he fell in and failed to resurface.

Other park visitors alerted emergency services, but conditions around the Sinks meant it was impossible to reach him for two days. By the time responders found him, he had sadly passed away.

"Although high water levels the last several days made recovery efforts difficult, emergency personnel searched the area where it was safe to do so," said the National Park Service in a press release on December 19. "Today, rangers were able to safely recover Keaney’s body near where he was last seen."

Rangers from the National Park Service were helped by emergency personnel from Townsend Fire Department, Blount Special Operations Response Team, and American Medical Response (AMR).

AMR took Keaney to the Blount County medical examiner’s office, but the NPS has released no further information.

Strong undercurrents

The Sinks, on the Little River, is a well known beauty spot with natural pools and a waterfall that are easily accessed from a nearby road. It's often used for swimming and boating, particularly on hot days, but strong undercurrents can quickly pull people under. Reported numbers vary, but according to local news site TheDailyTimes, seven people drowned at the site between 1971 and 2013.

In 2013, a Canadian man taking part in a whitewater rafting festival died after being submerged for 30 minutes while onlookers tried to rescue him. 

"Unfortunately, this tragedy is a reminder that even when participants are experienced, there are inherent dangers when engaged in whitewater recreational activities," said Chief Ranger Clay Jordan at the time.

"Park waters are swift with many unseen obstacles just below the water surface. In addition, river levels can rise rapidly after a heavy rainfall'"

Cat Ellis

Cat is the editor of Advnture, She’s been a journalist for 15 years, and was fitness and wellbeing editor on TechRadar before joining the Advnture team in 2022. She’s a UK Athletics qualified run leader, and in her spare time enjoys nothing more than lacing up her shoes and hitting the roads and trails (the muddier, the better), usually wearing at least two sports watches.