“Unfortunately, the Fall Creek area of Lake Keowee has seen more than its share of tragedy over the years"
Landon Gallman was trying to swim after a water bottle, but he never made it. Instead, he slipped underwater and disappeared, becoming the 20th man to drown in the Fall Creek Landing area of Lake Keowee since 1997.
A beautiful 18,500-acre lake in the South Carolina upstate, Keowee is surrounded by Blue Ridge Mountains. Dotted with islands and white sand beaches, the 26-mile-long reservoir developed by the power utility Duke Energy has 300 miles of shoreline.
It is one of the area’s major recreational attractions, with both homeowners and visitors enjoying the clear, clean water and picturesque surroundings.
But the lake, like any other body of water, can be dangerous.
As a Lake Keowee homeowner, I had heard about Fall Creek Landing and knew the area had
a reputation for being dangerous.
Vikash K. Patel, a 21-year-old from Greenville, was wading across a shallow area of Fall Creek to reach The Rock, a favorite recreational spot. Patel, who couldn’t swim, accidently waded into deeper water and drowned.
Another Greenville man, 19-year-old Angelo D. Hall, was swimming with friends at Fall Creek Landing when he disappeared below the water’s surface.
The Oconee County dive team, the Department of Natural Resources, Salem Fire and Rescue responded, but despite CPR, Hall died later after being transported to intensive care.
In that same year, Jose Adrian Ramirez, 20, of Greer, was swimming in an area near the main boat landing away from shore. Bystanders said he appeared to struggle and then disappeared. Drivers discovered his body in about 25 feet of water and about 50 feet from shore.
Following these deaths, there was talk about safety measures to address the Fall Creek problem. Duke Energy, which owns the lake, had plans to construct a barrier made of rock and fencing to armor the local shoreline and discourage swimming in the part of the lake known as “The Rock,” according to an article in The Greenville News.
The Fall Creek Landing area on upper Lake Keowee near Salem, SC, is a beautiful and popular part of the lake. Between the island and The Rock, a sandbar stretches about 600 feet. The area of water around the sandbar is shallow, but this can be deceptive. Stepping just a little off the sandbar can land you in 30 to 60 feet of water.
Emergency responders say it is crucial to wear a life vest in this area, even if you’re a strong swimmer. Drownings have not been a result from jumping from the rock but have resulted from swimming and wading in the water around the sandbar.
The site includes signs that warn visitors to swim at their own risk and to always wear a life vest, yet this doesn’t seem act as much of a deterrent.
With June here and lake activities in full swing, I reached out to Oconee County Coroner Karl Addis to see what, if any, measures had been taken since 2019 to make Fall Creek Landing safer.
“Unfortunately, the Fall Creek area of Lake Keowee has seen more than its share of tragedy over the years," Mr. Addis said. “It is a popular boat landing for many local people; however, it is also a popular area for many across the upstate of South Carolina and Western North Carolina.”
Part of the attraction is the little island commonly known as “The Rock,” a popular swimming area where people can climb to the top of the rock and jump or dive into the lake. You can even find YouTube videos of The Rock, which give you some idea of the fun people have there.
Mr. Addis confirmed that in 2020, Duke Energy erected a fence barrier to limit access by ground to an area where individuals enter the lake and attempt to wade or swim a narrow channel out to the island.
But even the most experienced swimmers can at any time easily get in trouble, according to the Oconee County Coroner. He encourages people to have a flotation device or throw rope bag close at hand to throw to someone who may get into distress.
“Throw before you go” is a common term in water rescue, Addis said, adding that people should not dive headfirst into shallow water.
He also encourages people to swim in pairs, looking out for each other, to remain alert for passing boaters or jet skis, and not to consume alcohol while swimming or boating.
“Please, do not become a coroner statistic,” Mr. Addis warned. “I encourage those who love to spend time on the lake to have their own safety and the safety of others in mind at all times.”