Bass Angler Fatality on Wheeler Lake

As a group of local anglers blasted off for a weekly  Tuesday evening tournament the last thing they expected to encounter was a Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) 161-kilovolt line across the Tennessee River near Decatur, AL.  The Coast Guard had established a safety zone between Tennessee River Miles 297 and 298, which closed the river at that point, and broadcast notice of the safety zone on their public radio channel to alert boaters of the closure of the river due to the downed line. However, bass boaters usually do not have marine radios in their boats so they were not aware of the safety zone or closure of the waterway

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A transmission line cable assembly similar to the one that had cables break and drop a transmission line into Wheeler Lake.

As a result, one of the bass boats hit the transmission line just as it was being raised out of the water killing 65-year-old Anthony Szozda, the passenger. Szozda died from blunt head trauma. The heavy transmission line brushed the head of the driver of the boat knocking his hat off but inflicting no physical injuries as far as we know. A trailing boater in the tournament is reported to have said the boats were traveling at 70 mph when the first boat that killed Szozda struck the transmission line. A TVA spokesman said the line was not energized at the time of the accident.

A cable being used to string the line had broken, dropping the line into the river at about 2:30 PM. About three hours later, the crew began lifting the line out of the water. It was at this time the boat ran into the wire.

TVA boats were reportedly in the water to warn boaters of the hazard. However, those at the scene reported that no TVA boats were in the area at the time of the accident. A TVA spokesman also acknowledged that TVA boats were in the water but were not in the area where the accident took place. The spokesman said there would be an investigation to determine why the TVA boats were not there.

A comment was made on the Southern Fishing Facebook page regarding the accident that the transmission line was also hanging close to the water the previous Saturday when the Fishers of Men Legacy National Championship was held on Wheeler out of Ingalls Harbor in Decatur. The comment said the line was hanging about 10 to 15 feet above the water and there were TVA boats there warning boaters of the hazard.

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