A University of Vermont student drowned after falling into the icy waters at Bingham Falls in Stowe over the weekend.
The Stowe Police Department says the body of Timothy Ferguson, 21, of Burlington was pulled from the water Saturday morning, after rescue crews spent nearly four hours Friday afternoon into evening looking for him, without success.
Stowe Mountain Rescue received a call around 3:45 p.m. on Friday, March 2, from Sophia Delfini, 20, of Burlington, saying Ferguson had slipped on the ice-covered ground near the upper gorge at Bingham Falls and had fallen into one of the pools.
Stowe police, fire and rescue crews were on hand as Mountain Rescue led the effort, with Johnson’s water rescue team available in case a diver was needed to search for Ferguson.
Mountain Rescue crews were lowered into the gorge from both sides to in an attempt to locate the man. The gorge was largely clear of ice and, although no one could see Ferguson, it was determined he was in one of two pools in the upper gorge, where the water ranges from 1 to 15 feet deep.
The first pool isn’t very deep and was all but ruled out by the rescuers, who focused on searching the second pool.
Johnson Water Rescue’s underwater camera was attached to a pike pole, while a Mountain Rescue swimmer was lowered into the gorge, probing the second pool, with Johnson crews observing the monitor on shore.
But they still couldn’t find the man and, around 6 p.m. — more than two hours after Ferguson’s fall — the search was suspended, and the rescue operation turned into a recovery effort.
The next morning, at 7 a.m., the recovery effort resumed, with Stowe Police and Colchester Technical Rescue joining in.
Crews set up a high-line rope system over the second pool, enabling a rescuer to be suspended over the gorge then lowered into it. Technicians from Stowe and Colchester used their own rope systems to position themselves along the gorge walls to support the high-line operation.
The suspended rescuer was able to probe with the camera into an area that separated the two pools, and located Ferguson, pinned underwater.
Two rescue swimmers from the Johnson team and a litter were lowered into the gorge with rope systems set up by mountain rescue, while rescuers were able to move the body out of the pin-point, and downstream to the two Johnson members, who then loaded him into the litter.
The litter and Johnson rescuers were raised out of the gorge by mountain rescue, and Ferguson was taken by a tracked ATV up to Route 108.
All rescue crews were successfully cleared from the gorge without further incident.
Danger at the Falls
Ferguson’s death was at least the third, and possibly the fourth fatality at Bingham Falls since the 1950s, but those were all during the warm-weather months — a 1996 incident happened in mid-June.
The Falls are a popular destination for tourists and locals, and the large trailhead is easily accessible on Route 108 near Stowe Mountain Resort. During Saturday’s recovery, Stowe police had their hands full keeping traffic moving along as cars with curious drivers and passengers headed up to the resort.
The trail at Bingham Falls is short and direct — although it can be steep and rough in several places — and there are different vantage points for observing the multi-tiered gorges and large waterfall.
Stowe Mountain Rescue has warned against people swimming and diving in the pools, but have acknowledged that unofficial and official sources have touted the area as a swimming hole as well as a hiking destination.
Doug Veliko, head of Stowe Mountain Rescue, said last fall he wished there were more information put out there about Bingham’s dangers.
“A lot of the time people are so far out of their element they don’t see how much danger they could be in,” Veliko said.