WXII 12 News Emergency services near the Duke Energy dam in Eden, NC
At least three people are dead and two others are missing, after a group of tubers got into an accident while going over a dam in northern North Carolina on Wednesday.
Rockingham County Emergency Services Director Rodney Cates told reporters the accident occurred near a Duke Energy plant, and that a plant worker had called 911 Thursday, after seeing tubers in need of help while floating down the Dan River in Eden, NC.
"We received a call [to] our 911 center about 3:15 this afternoon about some people on the river that needed to be rescued," Cates said Thursday. "We activated the water rescue response, responded to the area."
Four people from the nine-member group were rescued later that day, Cates said.
"There were four people in the water that were rescued from the water," Cates told reporters. "These people are indicating that there are more people - they have not seen them."
Upon further investigation, Cates added that it was determined the incident actually occurred Wednesday evening, as it began to grow dark, and that others may still be in need of help.
"These people are floating the river, they go over the dam, which is near the Duke Energy plant," he said. "Four of them were rescued today."
The four people rescued were transported to the hospital between 3:30 and 4:30 p.m. local time on Thursday, but they were not suffering from life-threatening injuries.
Later the same day, the Rockingham County Sheriff's Department confirmed three other members of the group were found dead, while two people remained missing.
Three of the missing five individuals from the Dan River search have been located and recovered (deceased). Two are still missing at this point.
— Rockingham County Sheriff's Office (N.C.) (@rockcosheriff) June 18, 2021
A spokesperson for the sheriff's office told PEOPLE the group of nine had initially tied their tubes together while floating down the river, although they eventually came apart.
The spokesperson said the search and rescue mission for the remaining individuals involves both air and water vehicles, covering an 18-mile radius that spans the area near the Duke Energy plant into Pennsylvania County, Va., where the river flows.
The spokesperson could not provide details regarding the ages of any of the individuals when asked by PEOPLE.
In his remarks to reporters, Cates stressed the importance of wearing a life jacket when going tubing.
"The message is: exercise safety. Wear life vests," Cates said.
"A lot of people want to get in the tube and not wear life jackets," he said. "The river has rocks, it has debris and if your tube gets punctured and goes flat, you have nothing but yourself. The river, the flow of the water makes it very very hard to navigate. Even the most experienced swimmers can get in trouble."