Fire Department rescues 3 on James River

By Laura Geller - bio | email

Posted by Terry Alexander - email

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Three men are safe Monday night after a canoe trip on the James River, turned into an hour long rescue effort. When the boaters hit a treacherous part of the river, their canoe overturned and each man was stranded on a rock.  Our crews were already filming with the Richmond rescue squad.

After a dangerous weekend on the James, in which one man died and five others needed to be rescued, we thought a river safety story was appropriate. While we were filming with Richmond's dive team, the call came in and the rescue squad went to work.

A rescue like this is something kayaker Justin Harris has seen time and time again. He says inexperienced boaters go further down the river than they should and end up in trouble.

"It happens all the time and it's actually a shame because the guys that know what they're doing, they come out here on a regular basis. We're afraid in the long run it's going to make us look bad," said Harris.

Monday's rescue hit a little closer to home as Harris actually attempted to help the three men before their boat overturned and got stuck between rocks.

The three boaters say they were hoping to stay in one of the calmer portions of the river, but instead they lost control and ended up in the rapids.

Rescue crews ran into a snag of their own. They lost their boat's engine after it hit rocks. The team was able to continue the rescue with paddle rafts and get to all three stranded boaters. Harris says the rescue could have been prevented.

"Not only do they have no business being out here but also they didn't do their homework beforehand and didn't really know where they were going," said Harris. "Anyone who is experienced in white water paddling knows the first thing you do is develop a float plan."

But David Shipp, who has been kayaking on the James for eight years, says it could have been worse.  At least these boaters were wearing life jackets. That jacket is required by law when the river level is above five feet.

"It's easy to make a mistake even if you think you're pretty good. You can hit a rock and all of the sudden you're in the water and even though the water might not be deep, it's still powerful," said Shipp.

With the treacherous work environment, this is not the first time rescue squad boats have been damaged.  Richmond Fire Department tells us they have back up boats and engines for this very reason.

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