Be cautious around waterfalls

Today’s Plattsburgh High School graduation ceremony is sure to be tearful – not just for the always emotional life transition but for a classmate who was supposed to be there in cap and gown, but won’t be.

A group of Plattsburgh teenagers went swimming Thursday in Wilmington at the Flume, a waterfall on the West Branch of the AuSable River. Two of them died there after apparently getting caught in the torrent, which was swollen by the rain we’ve had this week.

Helicopter searchers spotted the body of Taoufik Maknani, 17, a PHS senior who was supposed to graduate today. The other teen hasn’t been found as of this writing, and authorities say they won’t identify him or her until they find the body.

Authorities are being tight-lipped with information, so we don’t know exactly what these teens were doing when they died – whether, for instance, they were jumping from the Flume’s cliffs into the frothy pool below, as many people love to do. It may have been an unpreventable accident, but nevertheless, this situation makes us think it’s worth being cautious around waterfalls.

The Flume, carved into the rock and nestled in the forest, is a beautiful spot. It has been one of the Adirondacks’ most popular swimming holes for as long as we’ve known it, and it’s easy to see why.

But some times when we’ve swum there, we’ve seen reason to worry. The undertow in the pool can vary depending on the water level, or which part of the pool one jumps into. We’ve known situations in which a jumper was sucked under and felt like he or she was going to die.

Yet no one had died there until Thursday, as far as forest ranger Capt. John Streiff knew Friday. Therefore, we’re not advising you to avoid the Flume. On a hot summer day, a swimming hole is a treasure, and statistically, it’s probably less safe to drive to the Flume than to jump from its cliffs.

But we do urge you to be alert, cautious and willing to say no if it looks dicey. This goes for other Adirondack rapids and waterfalls as well. At Split Rock Falls near New Russia, four young men died in two separate accidents: three in 2003 and one in 2006.

Just because you’ve swum at a particular waterfall before and it was safe doesn’t mean it will be the next time you go. If the water is gushing hard, as it was on Thursday, stay away from the cascade. That may spoil your plans, but nature doesn’t work on your schedule, and it’s probably more powerful than you are. You can still have a great time there without going too close to the danger zone.

Meanwhile, the Enterprise staff is mourning the loss of these two teenagers, who had wonderful opportunities awaiting them in life. We didn’t know them, but their loss cuts deep. Our thoughts and prayers are with their family members and friends.