June 13, 2008

Cornell Student Drowns in Fall Creek Gorge

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Local emergency officials declared a Cornell student dead when his body was recovered from Fall Creek Gorge below the suspension bridge leading to North Campus last night around 9:20 p.m. He was later identified as 18-year-old Douglas Lowe from Shelton, Conn, a student in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. Lowe was said to have been swimming in the gorge with about 12 other people when his body was pulled under the current, the Ithaca Journal reported. He slid down a smooth rock surface that leads to a swirling pool of collected water — often a popular swimming spot for Cornellians.

Cornell Police, Ithaca Fire Department, Ithaca Police Department and Bang’s Ambulance all showed up to the Fall Creek Gorge, though the rescue team declared him dead before his body was actually removed from the water, according to the Journal. The case is still under investigation.

[video:node=30834] According to a press release by the IPD, the recovery was made by the New York State Police dive team, who were called in for assistance. The recovery occurred about three hours after Ithaca Police and Ithaca Fire department responded to 911 calls stating that a person had gone under water and not surfaced. Several attempts were also made to assist Lowe by the friend he was swimming with, as well as other swimmers in the area.

According to Ithaca Fire Department Lieutenant Dave Burbank, swimming in that area of the gorge is illegal and many emergency response groups have tried to spread concerns regarding the danger of swimming at that site. However, stairs and a dirt path that lead down to the gorge from University Ave. and McGraw Place, make access relatively easy. The IPD statement said, “water flow in the gorge at the time of the incident was relatively calm due to a lack of recent rain.”

The area remains one of the most popular sites for gorge swimming, due to a large flat rock that many students like to lounge on, especially in the summer. However, this is not the first death to occur in Fall Creek. Plaques in memory of students who have died in the gorge line the path down to the basin.

On Aug. 14, 2006, Aravind Lakshmanan, a 23-year-old graduate student also drowned in the Fall Creek Gorge. His death was the third gorge-related death that month. More recently, a student drowned on Sept. 8, 2007 after falling into the Cascadilla Gorge.

Simeon Moss ’73, director of Cornell Press Relations, said that people “can’t swim in the gorge areas … only where there are lifeguards … I urge people to pay attention to signs and the fact that you’re not allowed to swim there.”

Moss said Lowe was in Ithaca taking classes as part of a three-week summer session. Since Lowe had been dorming in Balch, there will be a community support meeting in the dorm tonight. Other support services will also be available to Lowe’s friends and acquaintances.

LeNorman Strong, Cornell University assistant vice president for student and academic services, issued a statement regarding Lowe’s death: “The news of Douglas’ death has been very difficult for many here on campus. It’s very sad — Douglas was such a wonderful young man with a promising future. I want to convey heartfelt condolences from the Cornell community to his family and his many friends. He will be remembered.”

Please continue to check back for more updates regarding this developing story.