At the Hoover Dam on the Nevada/Arizona border, a Welshman who got past security went all in for a swim and miraculously lived to tell about it.
But the ease with which he accessed the Colorado River dam, along with the slap on the wrist he received as “punishment” for his dangerous act, has many wondering how safe the Lake Mead reservoir connection would be from potential terrorists who might try something similar with more sinister results.
How It Went Down
Arron Hughes of Ruthin, Wales was in Las Vegas on August 10 for a bachelor party and was visiting the popular tourist attraction when he decided to try the stunt.
According to UK tabloid news site The Sun, which reported the story a month after it occurred, 275 people have attempted the feat in the last decade and all have been killed by the 10 hydroelectric turbines that sucked them under the water’s surface where they ultimately drowned. We were unable to independently verify these numbers, however, or find any regarding the number of Hoover Dam deaths whatsoever.
Hughes survived his drunken swim because just one of the turbines was in operation that day.
“We got there and it was absolutely roasting … ” he told The Sun. “ … The plan was just to go for a little dip at the start and then I thought ‘I can make this’ so I swam across, I made it from Arizona to Nevada.”
No Charges, Minor Fine
The 28-year-old self-described adrenaline junkie had spent nearly two days celebrating his friend’s upcoming nuptials, and made the alcohol-induced decision to try the stunt.
“Got sucked in, well pushed by the flow of the dam, so had to swim hard to make the other side. It was tough,” Hughes said.
After his 30-minute jaunt in the Colorado River, police were waiting at the other side to arrest the tourist for trespassing and jumping, diving, and swimming from the dam’s spillways or other structures.
“They were shocked I’d made it,” he said.
Considering the danger he’d posed to himself, others, and the possibility that he could have meant to infect the waterways in some manner, the $330 fine levied by the dam’s police seems almost comically insignificant. But protecting the primary water source for the tri-state area is no laughing matter.
Is Security Tight Enough?
The safety of water that serves more than 13 million people in Southern Nevada, Arizona, and California is, in fact, serious business. Built during the Great Depression of the 1930s and first operational on September 11, 1936, the engineering marvel attracts more than 1 million visitors annually.
But how safe is the dam from a terrorist attack if Hughes, and many others, have been able to access it since 9/11? Hoover Dam Police are supposed to provide security and law enforcement services for the site and the surrounding 22-square-mile security zone, and they insist the dam is safe.
Protection at the landmark was bolstered as early as 1997 and Elvid L. Martinez, commissioner of the agency that manages federal dams, said the precautions were necessary.
”We’re recognizing the potential violence that’s out there,” he said at the time.
After 9/11, the Hoover Dam got even more attention. Check points were put in place and vehicles such as semi-trailer trucks and U-Hauls were prohibited from accessing the bridge that overlooks the structure.
But the question remains, what would it take for a terrorist to access the dam with either an explosives vest or toxic substances that could taint the water and affect the health of, or even kill, millions of people? The answer is disturbingly unreassuring, based on empirical evidence.