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The Blanco River in Wimberley, Texas is beautiful. Usually peaceful and serene, it can be a safe place to wade and swim.

There's another side to this beautiful river and people in a hurry may fall victim to deceptive appearances.

Heavy rainfall often causes flooding of creeks and streams, country roads, and low-lying property. Most flood deaths occur in automobiles. The National Weather Service advises drivers, "Do not attempt to cross water covered areas. A little over a foot of water can carry away most cars and trucks. Turn around, don't drown."

It happens far too often. A driver tempted by a shortcut will attempt to defy the laws of physics and finds himself and his vehicle in the cold, swift-moving river. Some survive and emerge, bruised and wiser; a tragic few do not.

Still, some drivers will have a lapse of good judgment and try it on. They may credit their vehicles with almost supernatural powers... after all, don't the truck and SUV ads show people careening over water and rocks at track speed and wheeling to a stylish point stop, climbing out without a scratch?

Hill Country wisdom teaches that you can't believe all you see where the water is concerned. And if you can't see beneath the water, don't cross.

Even in the case of visible riverbeds, you may not have any way to measure the algae growth on the rocks or road that will act like a lubricant on the bottom of your tires, slicker than grease. Your safety in crossing depends on simple laws of physics... involving force of the moving water, traction on the surface, and the X-factor always present, a unforeseen sudden rush of water downstream from rising levels above stream. In the 1950s, one flood produced a wall of water over 50-feet high, and the old-timers around Wimberley still talk about how it came out of nowhere, a huge, swift, roaring mass.

Divers with the San Marcos Area Recovery Team (SMART) investigating a submerged 1994 Jeep Cherokee upside down in the Blanco River outside Wimberley.

SMART Divers were requested by the Hays County to remove the vehicle, mile upstream from FM 1492 next to River Road.

The initial investigation determined that a 17 year old male driver had attempted to use a private low water crossing in previous high water conditions.

For more recent rescue information, visit SMART.


Although in this case the driver was able to swim to shore uninjured, there was a delay in notifying authorities about the incident. Until neighbors along River Road noticed the vehicle in the Blanco River and became concerned about possible environmental destruction from petroleum products, authorities were not aware of the dangers.

With no injuries involved in the incident and since the history of the vehicle was known, SMART took the opportunity to use the vehicle for diver training and sent in three teams of divers to investigate. Underwater video and digital cameras were used to record the dives and critique the operation. SMART put a total of 8 divers in the water in three teams accompanied by six topside support personnel monitoring the live video feed to the surface.

On Sunday, the jeep was removed from the water with the gas tank intact. Misiaszek said they used eight "lift bags" to flip the vehicle, which had been upside down, and then a wrecker pulled it from the water.

"Because the vehicle was upside down and gasoline is lighter than water, the gas went to the bottom of the tank and stayed trapped in the vehicle," he said.

"This was the best case scenario. Had the vehicle been upright all this time, all of the fuel would have been lost into the river. Our goal was not only to use this situation to train and remove the vehicle from the water, but also limit any environmental damage to the river. We were successful on both accounts."

One of the most important things that SMART Divers does is not recover drowning victims, vehicles, or evidence of a crime. SMART Divers is training new divers for the future to continue assistance in central Texas with top quality dive recovery operations.

It is only a matter of time before we have an aircraft go down in an area waterway, and the skills Smart brings to the recovery effort...documentation of the scene, record positioning, instrument use and the collection of evidence...will have a large part in determining what happened to cause the crash and bring closure to the incident.

Lt. Dan Misiaszek says, "Every operation we do is a training operation, to teach future generations of divers the right way to process an underwater scene. This is the greatest challenge we face as leaders of the dive team." 

LOW WATER CROSSING LOCATIONS IN WIMBERLEY

Hays County or the Volunteer Fire Department in Wimberley usually closes and locks flood gates whenever there is high water over the road, but any of these crossings are known to have very dangerous flood waters, often during times of even moderate rainfall and should always be approached with caution.

Little Arkansas Road (CR 174) crossing the Blanco River
Wayside Drive (CR 178) crossing the Blanco River (Also known as Bendigo Crossing near John Knox Camp)
Hidden Valley Road at the Blanco River
River Road (178) and CR 1492 intersection at the Blanco River

RELATED LINKS:
SMART Divers - San Marcos Area Recovery Team, A Division of the South Hays Fire Department
How High is the Water? - Monitor the Blanco River water levels here with real time measurements.
VisitWimberley.com - Flood Information - More photos, information, and links to weather and river resources.
Hays Country Flood Warning System - Sensor locations and more information.

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