Man dies from waterfall in Lake Russell Wildlife Management Area

A trip to the mountains of northeast Georgia proved deadly for a former U.S. Marine. Kelly Heath Boyd of Dayton, Ohio, died Thursday after falling from a waterfall in the Lake Russell Wildlife Management Area.

Habersham County Coroner Kasey McEntire said Boyd, 29, died of apparent internal injuries resulting from the fall. His death was ruled accidental.

Boyd and a friend were visiting Tabor Falls when the crash happened around 5 p.m. on April 7. She called 911. After initially being sent to the wrong location, rescuers arrived at the trailhead around 5:38 p.m. They joined the couple about an hour later. and found Boyd alive but with “significant traumatic injuries”, Habersham County Emergency Services Director Matt Ruark said. Boyd had fallen about 20 feet, he said.

Unable to airlift the injured man out of the area due to the location and tree cover, HCES requested Rabun County SAR to assist in extracting him from the bottom of the ravine.

“Initially he was still alive but not coherent – not knowing where he was,” says McEntire. Boyd went into cardiac arrest shortly after rescuers arrived.

“During the attempt to extract the victim – due to difficulty and location – resuscitation efforts were halted by medical control,” Ruark said.

It took crews nearly five hours to recover Boyd’s body. The coroner pronounced him dead at the scene. According to the coroner’s office, the body will be sent to the state medical examiner’s office in Atlanta for an autopsy.

Boyd had only recently left the Marines and started traveling, McEntire said. He and his friend were in Pensacola, Florida when they decided to take a mountain vacation and ended up in northeast Georgia.

“My thoughts and prayers are with family and friends at this time,” he said.

Locate the location

Ruark tells Now Habersham there was confusion over the location initially because the 911 call was related to Rabun County. The caller indicated that they were at the foot of a waterfall.

“Because of this information, it was thought to be Panther Creek,” Ruark says.

When the units arrived at Panther Creek, Habersham dispatchers relayed updated information from the caller that they were at the base of Tabor Falls in the Lake Russell refuge, about 13 miles south- east of Mount Airy.

Ruark says there was a “minimal delay” caused by the initial confusion. “No team had been sent into the woods to try to locate them before we were informed of the new location.”

He adds: “Due to the location of the victim and the technical nature of the rescue, I don’t think there would have been a change in the outcome.”

Thursday’s rescue and recovery operation highlights the dangers people face when exploring wilderness areas. It also highlights the challenges faced by first responders in an area full of hiking trails, waterfalls and ravines.

As more people travel to northeast Georgia to enjoy its scenic beauty, public safety officials are urging caution.

“Please stay on marked trails. When you start going to locations based on coordinates against known tracks, it is difficult to locate subjects in an emergency.

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