Arkansas officials have a message for boaters on the popular Spring River: Stay away from the Dead Man's Curve area near Saddler Falls. Officials say a kayaker died in the area Saturday when a sinkhole opened up in the riverbed, creating a large whirlpool that overturned boats, the Washington Post reports. The kayaker, identified as 64-year-old Donald Wright, died while trying to save two other boaters. "He was trying to get to them to help right at the top of the falls," Arkansas Game and Fish Commission spokesman Keith Stephens tells the Springfield News-Leader. "One of the others was injured and was med-flighted out. The other individual was able to swim to shore."
Experts say sinkholes are common in north Arkansas because of the nature of the local bedrock—and when they happen underwater, they can create dangerous whirlpools. The area has been roped off and marked with buoys while the US Army Corps of Engineers looks for a solution. Family members say Wright, who ran an addiction recovery center, was an experienced kayaker—and they aren't surprised that he died while helping others. Wright had brought a recovery group to the river for an outing and became trapped under his kayak after saving somebody from the whirlpool, son Levi Wright says. "He was an amazing, godly man, a big old hippie. He loved the outdoors, he loved tie-dye, he loved his hair being long," daughter Selah Neal tells THV11.