Over the course of each year, more than 7.5 million people turn out to swim, boat, picnic, and otherwise enjoy Georgia’s beautiful Lake Lanier.
Unfortunately, not all of them will make it home alive.
Stories of drownings, other accidents, and mysterious disappearances on and around the lake have become so commonplace that many now believe it to be haunted or cursed. Of course, tellers of ghost stories tend not to be the most reliable historians or devotees of the scientific method. In fact, one of the most popular origin stories for this supposed haunting is some kind of unspecified large-scale accident on the lake in 1903, even though this man-made lake didn’t even exist before 1950.
In reality, when people disappear on a lake, the explanation is usually as simple as the fact that it can be very difficult to recover a body from deep water. And when a disproportionate number of people suffer serious accidents in one place, it’s usually because that place is unsafe in perfectly mundane, explainable ways.
This Year Is Already Deadlier than the Last
As of July 15th, still early in the summer, there had been nine recorded deaths on Lake Lanier in 2019 — seven drownings and two boating accidents. Even then, the lake was already in the process of claiming its next two victims, a father and son who’d been pulled out of the water alive by a lifeguard on July 11th. The son died in the hospital on July 18th, and was followed by his father the next day.
The day after that, on July 20th, a woman riding a water scooter crashed into one of Lake Lanier’s docks and died from her injuries, bringing this year’s death count up to 12, officially surpassing 2018.
High Traffic Doesn’t Explain the Body Count
In 2017, a representative of Georgia’s Department of Natural Resources attributed Lake Lanier’s high mortality rate to its sheer volume of visitors, but statistics gathered by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution don’t support that conclusion. At the time, Lake Lanier was only 7% more popular than Georgia’s second most popular lake, but twice as deadly.
A Division Chief with the Forsyth County Fire Department offered another explanation in a recent interview: that Lake Lanier, in spite of its beauty, was designed with flood control and water supply needs in mind, not safe recreation. The water is murky, the lake floor drops precipitously, and the bottom is covered with tree trunks, old structures, and other assorted debris that can ensnare swimmers and knock boats off course.
Stay Safe in and Around the Water
Just before Fourth of July weekend this year, 15 separate law enforcement and public safety organizations came together at Lake Lanier to raise awareness of safety best practices. Though their efforts have thus far been unable to make up for the lake’s unsafe conditions, their advice, along with the advice of several experts compiled by the Gainesville Times, is sound:
- Always wear a lifejacket while boating
- Respect boats as you would land vehicles
- Designate a sober boat operator
- Supervise children at all times around the water
Free safety courses are also available on site.
If you’ve lost someone to Lake Lanier, call The Stoddard Firm right away to learn about your options.