Three people are dead and two others are missing after a group floating a North Carolina river on inner tubes went over a dam, officials said Thursday night.
Four people were rescued from the Dan River, officials said.
The incident at the dam happened near dark Wednesday, but authorities weren’t notified until a Duke Energy employee saw people on the water around 3:15 p.m. Thursday and called 911, Rockingham County Emergency Services Director Rodney Cates told local reporters.
“We’re going to stay positive that we can do a rescue rather than a recovery,” he said.
Searchers used boats and a helicopter to search the area into Thursday night and plan to resume Friday morning, Cates said.
There were nine people in all, he said in remarks live-streamed Thursday night by local media. Four were rescued when authorities arrived Thursday and they told officials that others from their group were missing.
The identities of the three people found dead and the two missing were not released.
The dam by the Duke Energy plant is around eight feet over the water, Cates said, but the water going over it creates pressures in the area.
He said it wasn’t clear why the incident wasn’t reported sooner, but that it’s possible the people rescued from rafts on the water didn’t have the means to do so, like a cell phone. He said it was fortunate the energy worker saw them and called 911.
The Duke Energy plant and the dam is in Eden, near the North Carolina-Virginia border.
Cates said that people do float down the Dan River in that area, but typically they get out of the water and walk past the dam and re-enter the water down river.
He didn’t know the circumstances of what happened at the dam Wednesday night but said anyone on inner tubes or rafts should have life vests on.
Phil Helsel is a reporter for NBC News.