Paul Shahen
Eyewitness News Reporter

Rhea County, TN (WRCB) -- The search for three missing kayakers in Rhea County, ended with smiles.

A group of seven kayakers started on the Piney River, Thursday afternoon. Only four made it out by the end of the day. The other three walked out of the woods, Friday morning, unharmed.

It really was a touching moment, as the seven reunited. Rhea County officials expected the worst, but ended up with a best case scenario. All seven kayakers healthy with one scary story.

"I haven't slept, they probably slept more than I have, I don't know. I'm just happy they're out," said Bill Weber one of the four who made it out safely on Thursday.

The last 24 hours have been an emotional roller coaster ride for Weber and his friends.

Vacationing from Canada he and six others kayaked the Piney River Thursday but only four made it out by nightfall. Leaving three lost in the woods overnight.

Rhea County Rescue Squad member Billy Cranfield said, "you have three people from Canada, they don't know this area. They don't know the terrain like we do, they were in some rough country."

Which explains the overwhelming feeling of relief when the missing three walked out of the woods Friday afternoon.

The sheriff's department, park rangers, and the Rhea County Rescue squad had prepared for the worst with helicopters, ATVs and ambulances, but all the kayakers needed was liquid and a familiar face.

County Executive George Thacker's smile sums up the moment, "I'm so excited, it's a great story, a great ending. We were worried."

Three of the seven kayakers exited the river early because the water was getting too fast, explains Weber, "it was a bit much for the group to handle, some of us made it."

The three who bailed early planned on walking to base camp, but got lost trying to find the trail. They spent the night in survival blankets by camp fire, and found the trail this morning. It's estimated they walked more than 10 miles.

"Hopefully this will be a warning to others, when the water gets high in spring city, they need to be careful," added Thacker.


PINEY RIVER, RHEA COUNTY (WRCB) – Three missing Canadian kayakers have been found safe in Rhea County.

The three have been missing since Thursday when they were separated from their group on the Piney River.

Eyewitness News was on the scene when the three missing kayakers emerged from the woods safely.

According to one of the kayakers, the group decided to leave the river and hike out after one kayaker was injured.

The kayakers soon realized they were further into the woods than they originally thought and had lost the trail, so they camped for the night.

The three abandoned their kayaks and hiked more than seven miles over rough terrain before finding rescuers around noon.

The entire group is planning to spend a few more days in Tennessee before returning home to Canada.


Three people are missing after a day of kayaking on the Piney River in Rhea County.

Yesterday seven people split up into two groups.  Only one of the groups made it safely.

Rescue crews will be searching the terrain on ATV's and plus the Rhea County Sheriff's Department is planning on using a helicopter to search by air.


RHEA COUNTY, TN (WRCB) Rescue crews in Rhea County will continue to search for at least one missing kayaker Friday.

Dispatchers tell us two groups of kayakers were kayaking down the Piney River near Spring City Thursday afternoon.

One group made it back safely, but one group fell behind around 5 o'clock.

Authorities say they have located a female who was taken to the hospital with a leg injury.

Rescue crews will resume the search at 7 o'clock Friday morning for at least one person, maybe more.