Anakeesta death ruled apparent suicide, state investigation continues

A witness reported the Middle Tennessee woman was riding Anakeesta’s lift when she fell from the ride.
Anakeesta Investigation
Published: Jul. 28, 2022 at 9:59 PM CDT|Updated: Aug. 4, 2022 at 9:06 AM CDT
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GATLINBURG, Tenn. (WVLT) - The state is now investigating after a woman from LaVergne, Tennessee, was found dead under the chairlift at Anakeesta, an official with the Department of Labor and Workforce Development, Chris Cannon, told WVLT News. Investigators with the Gatlinburg Police Department said they are investigating the incident as an “apparent suicide.”

Anakeesta’s attractions sit atop a mountain in Gatlinburg. Visitors take a chairlift ride to the top at the beginning of their visit and back down again when they’re finished. Cannon said the ride is classified as a “conveyance device,” like an elevator.

Cannon also said the Chief Elevator Inspector will “conduct a mechanical inspection of the aerial lift and review multiple aspects of the lift’s operations.” The last time the lift was inspected was on April 21, Cannon said. Anakeesta’s lift permit is also set to expire on Aug. 4, but a new permit has already been approved, according to Cannon.

The incident happened around 7:40 Thursday evening, City of Gatlinburg official Seth Butler told WVLT News. Gatlinburg Fire and Rescue crews responded to the scene, where they found a dead woman under the lift, he said.

WVLT News spoke to two witnesses who said the woman fell from the chairlift. Jeffery McConnell said he was visiting the Gatlinburg attraction with his fiancée and three children when the woman, who he described as being in her late-20′s, fell from the lift from about three-quarters of the way up the mountain.

Butler said in a later update that witnesses who spoke to Gatlinburg Police Department officers confirmed that the woman “jumped from the chairlift.”

Before the woman fell, McConnell said that other visitors tried to alert the woman that her safety railing was up, but she did not respond.

McConnell, along with another witness, Jay Deuro, said the staff at Anakeesta kept the ride going after the incident.

“You could see the concern on everyone’s face that was getting on,” Deuro said. In a later update from Anakeesta representatives, they said they operated the lift long enough to get current riders off, then immediately shut it down.

McConnell told WVLT News that after his family had made their way back down the mountain, they told people waiting in line to “not look down” on their way up.

In a social media post online, the park stated that the Ridge Rambler would be open Friday, July 29 but the Chondola would be closed. After an initial investigation by the state investigator, the chairlift was reopened, according to representatives with Anakeesta. They also said that the incident was not related to the operation of the lift.

“The lift will resume normal operations with park opening on Saturday, July 30,” Anakeesta’s statement said.

WVLT News reached out to Anakeesta for a statement, and representative Michele Canney provided the following:

“We mourn this tragic loss of life. Our deepest sympathies are with the family.”

Anakeesta

Butler’s full statement is below:

“The Gatlinburg Police Department’s ongoing investigation regarding the July 28, 2022 incident at Anakeesta has determined that the possible cause of death of the female who was found deceased underneath the chairlift is an apparent suicide. The GPD Investigations Division was dispatched to the scene at approximately 7:41 p.m. on Thursday evening, immediately began investigating the incident and took multiple witness statements which corroborated that the individual jumped from the chairlift.”

Seth Butler, City of Gatlinburg

The investigation process can take up to eight weeks, Cannon said. Once the inspection is complete, that information will be available for WVLT News.

The incident is under investigation by the GPD.

Those struggling with suicide can reach the national suicide hotline by calling 988.

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