RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) – Our cameras were the only ones rolling during an amazing water rescue at Belle Isle this afternoon. A man gets stuck in the James River in downtown Richmond and has to scream for help.
Rescuers tell us the man was riding a tree down the James River when that tree got caught on a rock at the First Break Rapid on the far western tip of Belle Isle, wedging his foot in between it. He couldn't move and it took nearly 40 people and a strong rope, to pull the tree from off his foot. The river level was at about 6.5 feet by the Westham gauge.
"We were walking down the path and the next thing you know we just heard this guy screaming and we thought it was fake at first," said eyewitness, Tom Robinson.
Robinson and his friend quickly realized what they were witnessing was a man fighting for his life and called 911. An off duty firefighter jumped in to help until medics arrived.
"You could see where the water was blowing up there was a log there and you could see on the other side there was a rock," said off duty firefighter, William Klick. "All I could do was keep him calm and try to assess where the injury was."
When help arrived on scene a crowd gathered at the water's edge anxiously awaiting to see if the man would make it out alive. Then almost as if in slow motion, rescuers were able to free the man's foot.
"It's very rewarding to help somebody who was in trouble but I can't stress enough that it was a team effort. No one could have gotten them out by themselves," said rescuer, Kevin Knight.
Exhausted, the man and his rescuer high five each other as they float towards the shore. It's a job well done, that could have ended tragically.
"It's not a good idea to ride a tree down the river. That speaks for itself," said Richmond Fire Department Battalion Chief, John Harkness. "Today's incident just proves what can happen and in this case he was very lucky that when he was pinned he was above water."
That man couldn't walk on the foot that was trapped. He was taken to the hospital and is expected to be okay. When rescuers arrived he was not wearing a life jacket.