UPDATE: Boat hit tree 2 feet off water, killing two of three fishermen ejected, officers say

Two of three fishermen in a southbound bass boat were killed Wednesday when they hit a tree 2 feet off the water on the Chattahoochee River’s Alabama bank, the impact ejecting them into the river, investigators said.

Authorities identified the dead as Dennis Harris, 60, and Henry Price, 72, both of Omaha, Ga. The third man, Frank Bowman, 57, also of Omaha, survived the mishap, swimming back to the Alabama riverbank and trying to find help, officers said.

Officers with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources said the wreck happened around 4 p.m. Wednesday 10 miles north of Florence Marina State Park, which is in Georgia’s Stewart County. They said the boat failed to negotiate a bend in the river, plowing through the shallows onto the bank, apparently at high speed.

Investigators said Bowman told them he waited almost two hours on shore in the hope he could flag down a passing boat, then hiked through the woods to a dirt road he followed to a store and called for help.

Harris’ body was recovered 30-40 yards from the crash site about 8:30 Wednesday night, investigators said. Price’s body was found about 1:15 p.m. Thursday, 400-500 yards downstream, they said.

They said the three men were in a bass boat 17 to 19 feet long, with a 225 to 250 horsepower motor. Searchers found the boat about 400 yards downstream with damage on its right side.

Stewart County Coroner Sybil Ammons said Price had extensive internal injuries from the initial impact, including a broken sternum and broken ribs. She suspected he was piloting the boat and was crushed against its steering wheel.

Capt. Jeff Swift and Cpl. Mitch Oliver of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources said they did not believe the three men were wearing life vests. Swift said DNR recommends boaters always wear vests, but whether such safety gear would have made a difference in this instance is unclear.

Oliver said Georgia law requires children 10 or younger to wear vests the entire time they are out on the water. Adult boaters must wear them in areas designated as hazardous, such as the tail race below a dam, he said.

Authorities could not immediately say when last they had more than one fatality in a boating accident on the river south of Columbus.

According to Ledger-Enquirer archives, two men died and two others were injured in May 1998 when two boats headed in opposite directions collided during a fishing tournament near Fort Benning. That accident also fell within the Stewart County coroner’s jurisdiction.

DNR records show Georgia had 11 boating fatalities in 2011; 16 in 2010; 13 in 2009; 11 in 2008; and 18 in 2007.