Canoeing Lark May Yet Cost: The ’85 Flood in Richmond, VA.
After spending the night in the tops of some half-submerged trees, two youthful canoeists and a pet dog were rescued from the flooded James River near the HuguenotBridge yesterday.
A city police sergeant spotted the 17-year-olds shortly before 11 AM from a helicopter, just as the boys were planning to swim to a nearby house. The two were lifted aboard a National Guard helicopter and delivered to a rescue squad waiting at the northern end of the bridge. They were examined at a local hospital and released.
The dog, which had ridden in the canoe with the youths, was rescued later by boat.
The boys faked illness Thursday afternoon and left HenricoCounty ’s FreemanHigh School early. About 2 PM they put in a borrowed canoe upstream of the Huguenot span for a short trip down the KanawhaCanal to the Windsor Farms area, where they had a car parked.
One said he expected to return for that afternoon’s football practice. “We were just going to take a half-hour canoe ride,” he said. “It was a stupid decision.”
For the first part the canoeing was not hard. “The canal was fairly smooth compared to the river. We could hear the river and it sounded like it was going over a dam. We never made it to the river, thank God.”
As they were going under the bridge, Henrico police saw them and shouted an order to get out.
“They just paddled on off,” said Capt. H.W. Stanley. “We just had to go on the assumption they had gotten out of the river because there were no more sightings.”
But the pair did not head for shore. Instead, they paddled across a flooded yard to inspect an inundated house.
“We hit a bell—somebody’s dinner bell on a post. We hit that sideways and tipped over. We kind of panicked after that.”
The boys swam together to a tree. But when one tried to lift the dog into a crotch in the limbs, the dog fell off, and the other boy swam in after him.
With their life jackets, the two drifted down the canal until they reached a stationary log. Nearby a small paddleboat had floated out of someone’s yard and lodged in the tops of some small trees. Placing the dog in the boat seat, the boys hauled themselves out of the water into the trees and spent the night there, shouting to searching helicopters.
“I knew we were kind of safe,” one said. “We just sat there and shivered. The water was real cold.”
The two decided to try to swim for a flooded house at 9 AM, but they noticed the water was receding and so put off the swim until 10, then until 11.
At about 10:50, Richmond police Sgt. David Haywood, riding in the Guard helicopter, spotted one of the boys waving a life jacket. They were in a densely overgrown area bout one-quarter mile east of the HuguenotBridge . Haywood said the helicopter had made several passes before spotting them.
The two had been in the flood for more than 20 hours. Rescuers and their families had begun to despair of finding them alive. “I wouldn’t have given you a nickel for their chances,” one policeman said.
But when the Guard helicopter touched down at a Huguenot Road Intersection, the boys jumped out unaided. Relieved family members rushed to hug them before helping them to a rescue vehicle. By mid-afternoon, both had been released from the hospital.
“They were in remarkably good shape,” a hospital spokesman said. “They were more concerned with their dog than anything else. The parents looked like they were in worse shape than the kids.”
The dog was rescued by the Chesterfield Fire Department dive team later in the day.
Stanly said authorities plan to seek no charges against the boys. Persons needing rescue in the Richmond part of the river can be assessed the cost of the effort, but the boys capsized before reaching the city, and Henrico has no such law.
The Henrico Board of Supervisors has since voted to study whether to try and collect $15,000 rescue costs from the parents.
By Eric Sundquist
From the Richmond Times-Dispatch
November 9, 1985