Trout Fisherman Drowns On Chattahoochee River

Second angler rescued from frigid water by another angler.

Nick Carter | March 30, 2010

On Monday, March 8, DNR Law Enforcement officers recovered the body of a man who drowned on the Chattahoochee River in Suwanee after his boat flipped following a water release at Buford dam.

The body of Ira Braitsch, 64, of Lawrenceville, was pulled from the water just south of McGinnis Ferry Road about 24 hours after the incident occurred.

Braitsch’s fishing partner, Michael Boyle, 67, also of Lawrenceville, was rescued from the water Sunday, March 7. Shortly after the boat capsized, another man set out to go trout fishing from the Abbotts Bridge boat ramp and came upon the men in the water.

According to Jerry Waldrip, of Lawrenceville, the man who rescued Boyle from the river, Boyle said he and Braitsch were fishing the morning of March 7 when the river started to rise.

“A lot of people think when they open those gates there’s a wall of water that comes down that river,” said Waldrip. “But it’s not. It just rises real fast. Where they were at, it probably takes 30 minutes for it to rise a foot.”

Daily release schedules are available by calling (770) 945-1466, but the hotline warns that release schedules can change based on power needs and equipment failure. Waldrip said he called Saturday to check, and there were no Sunday releases scheduled.

“I was going to run up above the high water and start fishing. Right before you get to McGinnis Ferry Road, I seen a (capsized) boat floating in the river, and then I seen somebody hangin’ on to the boat. I started toward it, then I noticed on the left side of the river there was somebody in the water, just his face and fingers sticking up. You know, really treading water.

“I hollered to the fella on the boat, ‘I’ll be back in a minute,’ and I went and got the other fella over the side of the boat, and I carried him to the bank.”

As Waldrip was returning to aid Braitsch, who was still holding onto the boat, the boat went under.

“It was drifting upside down, and apparently it was dragging anchor,” he said. “The anchor hung up and pulled it under. It went down like a submarine.

“(Braitsch) went probably 50 feet behind the boat, and he went under. I never saw him no more after that.

“I looked for the other man for about two or three minutes, and when I couldn’t see him I called 911 right then.

“I just wish I could have helped that other man.”

According to Waldrip, the men were fishing when their boat, a 12-foot aluminum jonboat with a mud motor, got caught up in some timber and flipped. Waldrip said neither man was wearing a life jacket when he encountered them.

With water temperatures in the low to mid 40s, hypothermia sets in quickly. The two men had been in the water for 10 or 15 minutes before he got to them, Waldrip said.

“(Boyle) was about gone, man,” Waldrip said. “Hypothermia was getting to him. He could move, but he couldn’t move much.”

Gwinnett Fire and Rescue (GFR) received Waldrip’s call at 11:40 a.m., according to Capt. Tommy Rutledge, their public-affairs officer. Boyle was conscious, alert and breathing with signs of hypothermia, and he was taken to Gwinnett Medical Center in Duluth for treatment. Boyle was later transferred to St. Joseph’s Hospital in Atlanta.

“According to our ranger, (Boyle) had a mild heart attack while he was in the river,” said Melissa Cummings, communications specialist with DNR.

At presstime, Boyle had been released from the hospital after bypass surgery, Cummings said, and he was recovering at home.

GFR also rescued another angler from the river on March 7. At about 9:30 a.m., an angler in a float tube was caught in the high water. He was clinging to trees in the river when a rescue boat reached him, according to a GFR release.

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