One of the last things that 46-year-old Alvin Lino did late Saturday afternoon was check in on Facebook at Whitewater Express, an outfitter than runs guided raft tours on the Chattahoochee River.
Less than three hours later, Lino, a real estate investment analyst for a large national firm, became the first fatality on the Chattahoochee whitewater course, which opened in May 2013.
Lino was in a raft that capsized at the first rapid on the 2.5-mile course that runs into downtown Columbus. He was unresponsive when he was brought back into the raft, Whitewater Express owner Dan Gilbert said.
Lino was taken to the bank on the Alabama side where river guides continued efforts to revive him until Phenix City emergency medical personnel arrived and took him to Jack Hughston Hospital. He was pronounced dead just before 8 p.m. at the hospital.
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Lino’s cause of death, according to Muscogee County Assistant Coroner Charles Newton, is accidental drowning.
Lino was a senior analyst at Marcus & Millichap, a national real estate investment firm based in Atlanta. A native of Belize City, Belize, he studied finance at Georgia State University in Atlanta and Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Cornell University.
The flow on the Chattahoochee River Saturday when the high-flow trip was being conducted was 12,300 cubic feet per second in downtown Columbus, according to information provided by the National Weather Service’s office in Peachtree City, Ga.. What Whitewater Express calls its “Challenge Trip” usually runs in the evening when Georgia Power is releasing water from Oliver Dam. That trip is advertised on the Whitewater Express website at up to 13,000 cfs or higher.
According to information provided by Whitewater Express, the river flow at the time of the trip was 9,000 cfs, as ascertained by their guides.
Challenge Trips consist of two laps, with rapids ranging from Class II to IV, according to Whitewater Express. Trips happen between the hours of 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. All participants are given the option to opt out on the second lap and Lino chose to make the additional run, Gilbert said.
Gilbert said it was a normal high-flow trip. He did not say how many guides or boats were on the trip.
The guide on Lino’s raft was a first-year river guide, Gilbert said, but he had been trained by Whitewater Express. Like most of the tours, this one consisted of more than one raft and two highly experienced trip leaders who are certified in swift-water rescue, Gilbert said.
After making one pass on the course the group went back to the starting point, just below the North Highlands Dam near Bibb City.
The raft had gone through the initial rapid known as “Ambush,” when the guide turned around and went upstream in a technique known as “surfing the rapid.” All of the participants in the raft verbally agreed to surf the rapid, according to Whitewater Express.
All of the rafters were thrown from the raft during the surfing, Gilbert said.
Lino was wearing a life jacket, helmet and had gone through the pre-trip safety protocol, according to a release from Whitewater Express.
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“When this happened, it appeared everything was handled by normal protocol,” Gilbert said.
The whitewater course is managed by Uptown Whitewater Management LLC, a non-profit entity that grew out of Uptown Columbus Inc.
Uptown Whitewater Management LLC President Ross Horner said the organization is still reviewing facts and referred the Ledger-Enquirer to a statement it released Sunday afternoon.
“On behalf of Whitewater Management LLC, we are deeply saddened by this loss,” the statement read. “We would like to send our deepest condolences to his family and friends. We can not comment about specific details at this time, as we are working directly with all authorities involved in this matter. This is a tragic loss and we want to protect the family’s privacy while they mourn.”
Sunday morning, Whitewater Express ran one trip down the river then ceased operations when the river flow reached more than 20,000 cfs because of heavy rain and release upriver.
Whitewater Express also operates on the Nantahala River in North Carolina and the Ocoee River in Tennessee. The company has been in business since 1980 and this is the first death, Gilbert said.
“We are so sorry this incident happened yesterday,” Gilbert said. “We are a family-owned business and we take this personally. This is not just a personal thing for Whitewater Express, it is personal for Whitewater Management and this community. This is a personal loss.”
Because Lino was in the river, the Muscogee County coroner’s office responded. Newton said Saturday night they were going to send Lino’s body to Dekalb County for an autopsy.
That changed Sunday morning, Muscogee County Coroner Buddy Bryan said. The state crime lab declined to take the body because Lino, who listed a Mableton, Ga., home address, was pronounced dead in an Alabama hospital, Bryan said.
Lino’s body was to be turned over to Russell County Coroner Arthur Sumbry Jr., Bryan said.
The Muscogee County coroner’s office handled the notification of next of kin, Bryan said. A family member told the coroner that Lino had some medical conditions, including an enlarged heart, lupus and circulatory issues.
Chuck Williams: 706-571-8510, @chuckwilliams