Great Smoky Mountains National Park Rangers Pull Body of Elderly Man from Park River

by Jon D. B.

Rangers found the body of an elderly Tennessee man in a section of the river running through Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GRSM) Monday.

At around 1:30 PM on May 9, GRSM rangers discovered the body of 72-year-old Charles Queen “partially submerged in the middle of” the park’s Little River. Officials are unsure of how or when the Tennessee resident’s body wound up in the section of the river, about 1 mile west of Metcalf Bottoms.

72-year-old Queen was from Cocke County’s unincorporated Bybee community, which rests 40 miles north of GRSM borders.

Gatlinburg, TN EMS and Fire Rescue would also respond to the scene alongside GRSM rangers. A technical swiftwater rescue team would then recover the body. The Sevier County Medical Examiner’s office then took custody of Queen’s body.

No witnesses have come forward, and there are no obvious signs of foul play, the release cites. An autopsy is forthcoming to assist in determining the time and cause of death.

Regardless, Great Smoky Mountains National Park strongly discourages any water recreation within the park “due to numerous hazards and dangers,” their safety regulations embolden. “Drowning is one of the leading causes of death in the park. Innumerable injuries have resulted from people swimming and riding inner tubes in park waters.”

Great Smoky Mountains National Park Press Release on Death of Charles Queen

“Great Smoky Mountains National Park rangers responded to a report of a body in Little River approximately 1-mile west of Metcalf Bottoms at approximately 1:30 p.m. on Monday, May 9. Rangers, along with Gatlinburg EMS/Fire discovered the body of Charles Queen, age 72 of Bybee, TN, partially submerged in the middle of the river. A technical swiftwater rescue team recovered the body, which was released to the Sevier County Medical Examiner’s office. A vehicle, registered to the deceased, was located in a pull out approximately 600 feet upriver along a steep embankment.  

No witnesses have been identified to the events leading up to the discovery and there were no obvious signs of foul play.  An autopsy will be performed to assist in determining the time and cause of death.”

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

No further details are public at this time.

GRSM Water Safety: ‘Serious water-related injuries occur every year’

As the park cites in their safety regulations, “Serious water-related injuries occur every year in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.”

Medical assistance for injured persons may be many hours away. The park strongly discourages any water recreation within its borders as a result. If you plan to be around children or the elderly in GRSM, please closely monitor them at all times. There are no life-guarded swimming areas anywhere in the park.

In addition, Great Smoky Mountain National Park river levels can rise rapidly after heavy rainfall. Often, localized thunderstorm will dump rain far upstream on the park’s highest peaks and create sudden flood conditions. This can occur with visitors at lower elevations never feeling a single raindrop.

As a result, “Do not wade in or attempt to cross a rain-swollen stream! Hikers must use good judgment when deciding to cross streams. It is better to turn back or wait for flooding streams to recede than risk your life in cold, swift waters,” the park cites.

For more on recreating responsibly in the Smokies, see our National Parks Journal: How to ‘Recreate Responsibly’ in the Great Smoky Mountains with NPS’ Dana Soehn next.