Man Drowns at Rope Swing: Dartmouth Graduation Party Turns Tragic on Connecticut River
Authorities search for a lost swimmer in the Connecticut River of Patchen’s Point in Norwich. Authorities and Dartmouth College said last night that the brother of a graduating Dartmouth student went under after jumping off a rope swing and did not resurface. (Valley News - Libby March) Purchase photo reprints »
Onlookers and authorities wait on the bank as emergency personnel search for a lost swimmer in the Connecticut River in Norwich last evening. (Valley News - LIbby March) Purchase photo reprints »
Norwich — What had been a graduation celebration turned tragic last night when the brother of a graduating Dartmouth College student failed to resurface after plunging into the Connecticut River from a rope swing at Patchen’s Point off Route 5.
Authorities said they called off the search at 9 p.m. because of darkness after more than two hours of combing the riverbank for a male in his early 20s. New Hampshire Fish and Game will resume the search this morning at 8:30.
Police were called to the scene just before 6 p.m., Hanover fire captain Jeremy Thibeault said. Police said the victim is “believed to be a foreign national,” but the college did not identify either him or his brother.
The victim dropped from the rope swing into the river, resurfaced, flailed his arms and dipped back under water, Norwich police officer Francis Schippert said. He did not resurface. The victim’s brother was transported to the hospital and other swimmers at the scene were treated for shock.
The water’s depth at the spot in the river where the victim was last seen is between 12 and 20 feet, the Hanover Fire Department said in a news release. The water temperature was 63 degrees Fahrenheit.
Lifeguards were hired by the class to be present at the boat launch, according to Dartmouth spokesman Justin Anderson.
Prior to the accident, the victim and his brother had been attending Riverfest, an annual senior week event of games and socializing organized by the college’s graduating class across the river at the rowing dock on the grounds of the Chieftain, a motel north of the college on Route 10. The student and his brother either swam or paddled a canoe to the Vermont side, police said.
By the time search and rescue officials arrived at the Chieftain, the nearly 200 Riverfest attendees had abandoned the party, leaving behind unclaimed shoes and a pile of uneaten hamburgers.
Divers in bright yellow suits carrying flashlights searched the waters and the river bank, focusing their efforts near the area directly beneath the rope swing. A Dartmouth Marine Safety pontoon assisted the divers in the search.
Shippert said the water was so murky that searchers could not see their own feet. To gauge where the man entered the water, search and rescue officials on the river bank grabbed the trapeze-like swing and let it sway across the river.
Citing safety concerns, Dartmouth officials began cutting down rope swings along the Connecticut River last summer, but Anderson said he was unsure whether any had been removed this year.
“It is an annual ritual,” he said. “The ropes go up and we cut them down.”
Dartmouth had cut the ropes last summer after a student was hospitalized with minor injuries related to a rope swing jump.
The last drowning related to Dartmouth appears to have occurred in 2005, when a Trinity College student drowned in the Connecticut while participating in a swimming challenge that students used to mark their completion of a summer business program at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business.
Several years ago, Dartmouth oversaw the construction of several swimming docks south of the Ledyard Bridge to encourage students to swim in an isolated area where lifeguards could monitor their activities.
“It was done in the interest of promoting safe swimming,” Anderson said.
Dartmouth has notified the parents of the victim and notified students and staff of the incident late last night.
“Tonight, our thoughts are with the family of the missing man and his Dartmouth brother,” the email said. “We have contacted the family to express our deepest condolences and our support.”
Katie Mettler can be reached at 603-727-3234 or firstname.lastname@example.org and Liz Sauchelli can be reached at 603-727-3305 or email@example.com.
This article has been amended to correct earlier errors.
The Chieftain Motor Inn is on Route 10 in Hanover. The road was misidentified in an earlier version of this story.
Jeremy Thibeault is a captain with the Hanover Fire Department. His department was also misidentified.