MORRISTOWN - A mother is dead after trying to rescue her children and others on a runaway raft.
The group was floating in the Nolichucky River in Hamblen County Thursday afternoon when their float drifted toward the Enka Dam.
Rescuers say 29-year-old Anna Last exited the float to try and pull it to shore, but was pulled under the current. They later recovered her body about a half-mile downstream.
Her two children, another adult and two other children were still aboard the raft when rescue crews arrived. Rescuers were able to throw a rope and pull the group to safety. There were no other injuries.
Kyle Tilley, a nearby fisherman, had heard the commotion and called 911. He was the only bystander within eyesight when the group of seven, including five children, floated toward the Enka Dam.
"You're terrified," Tilley said. "You're worried about their lives, so all I could do was call 9-1-1."
He said while he waited for rescue crews, the waters ejected an additional child from the raft -- sending her careening down the river while the others remained trapped.
"I intercepted her right down there and got her out," Tilley told 10News. "And once I got to her and got back on the bank, I ran back to the gate to show the EMS how to get down here."
David Cribley with the Hamblen County Sheriff’s Office said the float was not meant for river-rafting, but had mesh openings that helped save their lives. This allowed water to flow freely without filling up and capsizing the raft.
Paramedic Claude Thompson was one of several responders who arrived to the scene, along with Morristown EMS and Rescue Squad crews. He told 10News he regarded both Tilley and Last as heroes.
"[Last] was spit out of the [dam], and she was still alive at that point, according to her family," Thompson said. "She turned around and looked back, and saw that they were still stranded in there. She could've swam away, but she did what any other mother would do and she went back for her children."
Thompson said if Tilley hadn't called for help when he did, and if Last hadn't made her sacrifice, her children may not have lived.
"Something she might've done might've caused those children to stay afloat a little longer - we don't know. It's times like that when seconds matter," he said.
Two other kayaks drifted down stream during the incident, but there were no other injuries.
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