Fisherman rescued from river

NORCROSS -- A swept-away fisherman rescued in rising Chattahoochee waters near Norcross on Thursday serves as further proof of the river's strength in the wake of Buford Dam releases, officials said.

The unidentified, 40-something man lost his footing and plunged in the river about 11 a.m. while fishing on a bank south of Jones Bridge Park, the sight of a drowning in 2008.

Whisked by currents to the middle of the river, the man pulled himself onto a rock, where he yelled for help and caught the attention of a nearby resident, who called 911, said Capt. Thomas Rutledge, Gwinnett County Fire Department spokesman.

The department's Swiftwater Rescue Team deployed a boat and reached the stranded man on the rock a few minutes before noon, Rutledge said.

Wearing waders, the man was not injured but complained of being cold. Rutledge said he wasn't wearing a life jacket but had no intentions of entering the water. He was evaluated by paramedics and released at the scene.

Records show the rescue call was the fourth this year for Gwinnett's Swiftwater team. They fielded nine such calls in 2009.

"We're gearing up for a busy summer," Rutledge said.

Rutledge said a U.S. Army Corp of Engineers water release at Buford Dam -- about 201/2 miles upstream -- had just subsided, and that the river hadn't crested. Data provided by the Corp show typical water releases affect levels near Jones Bridge Park for 13 hours.

"Another 30 minutes, and (the water) would have probably been above that rock," Rutledge said. "We're very fortunate this wasn't a drowning incident."

Earlier this month, a 64-year-old avid fisherman drowned after the jon boat he was in capsized as water rose near Suwanee, tossing in him and a friend. The men reportedly struck a log and were not wearing life jackets. Another boater rescued the second man.

The fatality was the Chattahoochee's first since a 28-year-old Doraville man slipped on rocks near Jones Bridge Park and drowned in June 2008.

Officials said swift, rising water played a role in both drownings, in addition to hypothermia in the latter case. The Chattahoochee, purged from the depths of Lake Lanier, is notoriously cold year-round.

Authorities urge river-goers to be mindful of dam release schedules and to always wear life jackets. A four-siren warning system is in place near the dam, along with signage on the river banks.

"The river is a beautiful place," Rutledge said, "but can become extremely hazardous during water (release) periods."

For updated information on Buford Dam water releases, call 770-945-1466. Schedules are also available online and on 1610 AM near the dam.