Saturday, August 20, 2005

Death on the James

Well, we had another drowning death here in Tidewater, and this one wasn't purposeful. Although, frankly, I'm afraid I can list a host of things the victim did that directly led to his death. None are as frank as standing on the railing of the CBBT and leaping off, but they certainly killed him.

Today, a 50-year old man was boating with two friends in the James River near Huntington Park just north (and west) of the James River Bridge. A bit after 5 this morning while the 20-foot boat was anchored north of the channel, the man fell in the water. One of his friends turned to get a life jacket in order to jump in after him; when the friend turned around, the man was gone. He'd sunk beneath the surface.

It was still dark, so the friends began to search using a flashlight and a searchlight. A bit later they flagged down a passing boat who then notified 911.

Yes, these guys were underway without a cell phone or a radio. They had no means of communication with people on shore.

The Newport News Fire Department responded with their fireboat. 911 notified the Command Center at Sector Hampton Roads who launched a small boat from Station Portsmouth and a helicopter from Air Station Elizabeth City. The Virginia Marine Police also responded, and by late morning the State Police were onscene with a boat equipped with side scan sonar.

Searches were conducted for ten hours before being suspended.

Officials onscene noted that the two friends were inhibriated; I can only assume the missing man was, too.

When his brother, the man's next of kin, was notified of the accident and the search, the brother said the man could not swim... at all.

And, the icing on the cake is this: he wasn't wearing a life jacket.

So, let me review: they didn't have a radio or phone; they were drunk; they weren't wearing personal flotation devices.

I don't want to suggest this is the theory of Darwinian evolution at work, but...

Some people think something like this will never happen to them, or they'll never fall in, or the PFD feels awkward, or whatever...

Well, folks, if you've read this far, I have a little counsel for you: when you step on a boat, put on a PFD. It's that simple.

So, did this man, visiting Tidewater from his home in North Carolina, purposefully die? No, certainly not. But, his actions led directly to his death. A host of dedicated professionals spent the day looking (both on and under the water) for him, each knowing that his own actions killed him. They placed hope upon hope that he was somehow alive, clinging to a piling or an buoy, but in their heart of hearts, they knew the chances of that were mighty, mighty slim.

So, once again, folks, the moral for you is straight-forward: when you step on a boat, put on a PFD. Don't die needlessly.

Boat safely, folks, please. It's your own life you might save.

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