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story.lead_photo.caption A track hoe works Thursday to fill in a sinkhole in the Spring River that opened last month and claimed the life of a kayaker. The work collapsed the sinkhole roof and filled in the opening, resolving the hazard.

A sinkhole that killed one person when it opened last month in the Spring River in northern Arkansas was closed Thursday, the commissioner of state lands said.

A team of officials used a track hoe, or excavator, to collapse the limestone roof of the sinkhole, according to John Thurston, Arkansas commissioner of state lands. The structure fell into itself, eliminating the possibility of more whirlpools or other water hazards.

Donald Wright, who worked as executive director of the halfway house Life Recovery Center in Searcy, was floating with a group in an area known as Dead Man's Curve below Saddler Falls on June 9 when he died.

The 64-year-old was trying to help after another person's canoe was caught in a whirlpool that was created by the opening of the sinkhole, but Wright's kayak capsized and he was sucked into a whirlpool and drowned.

Officials restricted access to the area after Wright's death, using ropes and buoys to cordon it off.

The sinkhole repair came about three weeks after officials from several agencies began an evaluation of the riverbed. A consulting hydrogeologist from Missouri used a dye-tracing technique to identify characteristics of the sinkhole, specifically where the water running into the cavity was exiting, Arkansas Game and Fish Commission spokesman Keith Stephens said.

Results showed that the water was not reappearing downriver, indicating that the sinkhole was not part of a larger cave system beneath the surface, said Bill Prior, a geologist at the Arkansas Geological Survey. As a result, the sinkhole could be closed fairly quickly and easily at the site, Prior said.

"It was just a matter of moving some rocks around," Prior said. "We tried to help the river do what it was meant to do. We just sped it up a little bit."

Officials removed the barricades around the sinkhole, and the area is open now. Prior said people floating on the river just after the repair sailed through the area without any problems.

He added that geologists will return to the site next week to make sure the holes are collapsed and that rock fragments aren't posing a risk to floaters.

The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, the Arkansas Geological Survey, the Department of Transportation, the Department of Parks and Tourism, the attorney general's office, the Fulton County sheriff's office and several volunteers assisted in the effort, which took about 30 minutes, according to a release from the commissioner's office.

"Without the tireless work of many people, we would not have completed this project in a timely manner," Thurston said in the release. "Each agency, official and volunteer has given a great amount of time to put together the plan and act upon it before anyone else was injured."

State Desk on 07/14/2018

Print Headline: Team razes sinkhole where floater died

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  • Architect
    July 14, 2018 at 10:46 a.m.

    Shouldn’t the article say that the dye DID reappear downstream, indicating that the sinkhole was NOT a part of a larger cave system beneath the river? In other words, if the dye disappeared, wouldn’t that indicate the current led INTO the cave system and not back into the river downstream? The persons body was recovered downstream.