Tragedy on Pickwick Lake

Sunday, February 23, 2020, two boys and a parent chaperone were reported missing after they did not return to the boat ramp or to their homes after a bass fishing tournament on Pickwick Lake the previous day. The two fifteen-year-olds and the 43-year-old “boat captain”, the father of one of the boys, reported as Kenneth Driver, were on Pickwick to fish a high school bass club “fruit jar” tournament while pre-fishing for an upcoming event. The club is from Obion County Central High School in Obion, TN.

Reportedly, their boat’s engine had mechanical problems at the beginning of the tournament. The team evidently fixed the motor or decided to go ahead and fish using the 20 ft. boat’s trolling motor. The area of Pickwick Lake Dam had swifter and higher water than normal due to upstream dams releasing water from rain-swollen impoundments. Pickwick Dam also had floodgates open discharging a massive amount of very swift flood water. There is one unconfirmed report that the Tennessee Valley Authority had closed Pickwick Lake to navigation.

On Monday, it was reported that a video camera trained on Pickwick Dam’s floodgates revealed that the boys and dad had entered one of the dangerous gate overflows. However, there have been numerous reports that there was no such video camera or video. The heavily damaged and capsized boat, with the main engine missing, was discovered downstream in the Savannah Bridge area Monday morning.

Map of dam and river area. Google Maps

The circumstances surrounding how the boat and occupants ended-up going thru and over one of the dam’s open floodgates is unknown, and may well never be known if no survivor(s) is recovered alive. According to reports, a camera on the dam recorded the boat at the floodgate at 8:30 AM on Saturday.

Pure, unofficial speculation was that the boat’s battery-powered trolling motor had become useless due to power drain pulling against the swift water. However, there would have been a charged cranking battery available that could be used in an emergency. Regardless, without a working main engine or trolling motor, control of boat direction and drift would have been difficult if not impossible in that area, even with paddles. Even a trolling motor was fully charged batteries would have most likely been unable to counteract the swift flow of water over the floodgates.

The two boys and the adult have not been found after three days of searching by over 35 boats, a 100 volunteers, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, Hardin County Fire Department, Sumner County EMA, Decatur County Rescue, Hardin County Sheriff’s Department, Henry County Rescue, Henderson County Rescue and EMA, Carroll County Rescue, Chester County Rescue, Obion County Rescue, Fayette County Sheriff’s, TVA Police, Pickwick State Park staff, Jackson Police Department Aviation Unit, the Tennessee Highway Patrol Helicopter as well as a drone.

The Tennessee Valley Authority has begun dropping water levels to aid in the search for the missing fishermen.

Meanwhile, the search continues.

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