Melissa Mason, 24, and Kevin Ludwig, 26, were both rushed to the Heritage Valley Sewickley hospital shortly after 4 p.m. that day.
Ludwig was treated and released before 7 p.m., while Mason was pronounced dead at a Pittsburgh hospital, according to Lawrence P. Furlong, assistant supervisor of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission's Bureau of Law Enforcement.
With Memorial Day—the official start of boating season—quickly approaching, the Fish and Boat Commission, along with the U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, are hoping to remind the public about safe recreational boating.
Many residents in the Baldwin-Whitehall area take advantage of recreational opportunities in the Monongahela River, as well other waterways in western Pennsylvania.
The recent Ohio River tragedy at the Dashields Locks and Dam, across the river from Edgeworth and Sewickley boroughs, came a day after the May 19 start of National Safe Boating Week, which encourages responsible boating. On Monday, the trapped jet ski bobbed up and down in the dam's current, a physical reminder of the potential dangers that await.
Across the nation, there were more than 4,580 boating-related accidents in 2011 resulting in more than 750 fatalities, the Coast Guard reports.
Col. William Graham, commander of the Pittsburgh District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said that a kayaker was also killed on Sunday at the Allegheny Reservoir in Warren County. The kayaker wasn't wearing a life jacket, Graham said.
Furlong said that he can't recall the last time that there was an accident at the Dashields Dam; though, he said that there have been several over the years at various dams, particularly the Highland Park Dam.
Furlong said that Ludwig was operating the jet ski and that Mason was a passenger when the two went over an approximately 10-foot drop at the dam and got sucked into a current.
The 70-year-old gated dam, the only fixed-crest type still in service on the Ohio River, is basically a concrete wall across the river. The wall keeps the channel deep enough for navigation but is tough for small boaters to see because the top of the concrete, or crest, is covered with flowing water.
Officials said that Ludwig ignored warning signs posted along the river as the jet ski headed downstream. Several white and orange pillar buoys and painted signs scream "Danger!" as a warning to boats and watercrafts closely approaching the dam.
Dave Sneberger, chief of the Locks and Dams branch, said that his crew at Dashields is consistently busy with towboats and didn't see the jet ski go over the dam.
A family who happened to be fishing in the area heard Mason scream as the jet ski went over the dam. The family members pulled the two out of the water.
"They risked their lives," Sneberger said.
Furlong couldn't say at this point if alcohol was a contributing factor in Sunday's accident. Ludwig submitted to a blood test at the hospital and was interviewed by Allegheny County homicide detectives, Furlong said. The Allegheny County Medical Examiner's Office ruled Mason's death an accidental drowning.
Furlong said that officials continue to investigate and that charges could be filed. Boating-related charges can range from negligent boat operation all the way up to homicide.
U.S. Coast Guard Commander Richard Timme said that it's the Coast Guard's mission to promote safe recreational boating and that there is even a volunteer Coast Guard auxiliary that exists for that purpose.
"To have this happen at the beginning of the season ... it's frustrating as a safety professional on the water," Timme said. "Once again, we're talking about a fatality on the rivers.”
Jeff Hawk, public affairs officer of the Army Corps of Engineers, said that it's important for boaters to learn about the rivers that they're navigating before going out on the water.
"Resources are out there to minimize the risk," Hawk said.
Click here to learn more about using navigation locks.
This article originally appeared on the Sewickley Patch.
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