A group of nine people tumbled over the Duke Energy Dam while tubing down the Dan River in Eden, North Carolina, on Wednesday (June 16) evening.
Authorities were notified about the incident until the following day when a Duke Energy employee noticed people in the water and called 911. When rescuers arrived in the area, they located four people who were clinging to a single tube in the river. After pulling them to shore, the rescuers learned that the other five members of their group were missing.
Officials recovered the bodies of three people and are continuing to search for the other two members of the group who are still missing. The four people who were rescued were taken to the hospital with injuries that were not considered to be life-threatening.
"We're going to stay positive that we can do a rescue rather than a recovery," Rockingham County Emergency Services Director Rodney Cates said.
Officials have not released the identity of the deceased victims or those who are missing.
"I've worked here as sheriff for 23 years, but this is probably the most significant number of victims," Rockingham County Sheriff Sam Page said. "I don't recall seeing that high of a number associated with potential drownings."
Authorities said that it is common for people to tube down the Dan River, but they usually get out of the water before reaching the dam, which sits about eight feet over the river. There are signs posted along the river warning people they are approaching the dam.
"This time of year, a lot of people are on the water," said Page. "You just have to be careful."
Officials are still trying to determine why the group was on the water so late and why they didn't exit the water before approaching the dam.