Accident Database

Report ID# 1168

  • PFD Not Worn or Present
  • Head Injury / Concussion
  • High Water
  • Inadequate Equipment
  • One Boat Trip

Accident Description

 Following heavy rains, two men attempted a run down the Balcony Falls section of the James River, Virginia. The river was at a high but not dangerous level for those in the know. This run is normally class II-III, but the higher (and colder) water bumps it up a bit. Neither man was wearing a life jacket, and the raft may have come from Walmart. Interestingly, authorities closed the river for 3 days while searching. Not sure about the wisdom and legality of this, but they have the badges and guns.

Liberty University Student Missing Britt Conway

WSLS NewsChannel 10

Saturday, July 1, 2006

Robert Foresman says it's dangerous. He's out there with rescue crews looking for a 21 year old Liberty University studen. "It is strong enough that it could pull you under...and not come back up." And that's what rescue workers say happened on Friday. Crews and family members will not release the students name but say he was on the river with a friend. "A young man had flipped a raft, was seen once, went back under and we have not seen him since." His friend saw it happen and ran to the railroad tracks for help. Rescue crews are still searching. "And see if they can find a body. We do think that it is a body at this time. We do feel that it's a recover and we're going to stay here until we do find a body." The water has gone down more than a foot since friday night but the water is just as rough. Britt:

Does that make it even harder for you to find him? Robert: Well it does when the water is up and running so hard it does make it. Which is why they're telling people not to go in the water and making them come out if they do. "What they don't understand, this is not like white water rafting. This is dangerous because there's a lot of debris in the river that has been swept down from other locations." I talked with a close friend of the family, she says they are an absolute mess right now...understandably. She describes them as being a really close family so they are an emotional wreck right now she says because they are coming to the realization that worst is inevitable. "It's very difficult having to look a mother in the eye and tell her that one of her children is probably gone."

Search divers end up needing a rescue themselves...

WSLS NewsChannel 10

Monday, July 3, 2006

Divers searched the James River in Rockbridge County for the last time Monday night hoping to find 21-year-old Aaron Cooper. But, before the search ended the divers ended up needing a rescue themselves. Members of the Rockbridge dive team spent the day on the bottom of the James River searching for signs of Cooper. When the team came up for air at one point the water swept them downstream. The divers made it to the shore but Lifeguard 10 had to pick them up because they were too tired to swim back to camp. "It is strenuous work. Trying to stay on the bottom, trying to stay down, you're searching in zero visibility, climbing over rocks," Diver Billy Mann's said. Search crews told Cooper's family that the search for their son is finished, telling them they've done all they can.

Body found 7-4-06

Search Continues For Drowning Victim Monday, July 3, 2006 6:16 PM CDT Recovery efforts continued throughout Monday for a missing 21-year-old Liberty University student whose inflatable raft apparently capsized on the James River near Glasgow last Friday. Aaron Cooper, 21, of Coventry, R.I. was rafting around noon on Friday with a friend who was on a similar inflatable raft when Cooper?s raft capsized in what could be considered to be Class III or IV rapids. The incident occurred approximately 2  miles down river from where the pair had launched from the boat landing at Glasgow. According to Robert Foresman, Director of Emergency Services for Rockbridge County, Cooper apparently surfaced one time before disappearing. The friend successfully made it through the rapids. After seeking help from other kayakers in locating Cooper, the friend went ashore and asked some railroad workers to summon help.

Since the incident, rescue workers from the Glasgow and Natural Bridge fire departments, Glasgow Rescue Squad and the Buena Vista Swift Water Rescue Team as well as from other local law enforcement agencies and search and rescue teams from across the state have been searching a three-mile stretch of the James River as it winds its way through a gorge with steep banks and rugged terrain. The river ranges from 100 to 500 yards in width through the gorge. The area is inaccessible by road except for a service road for the CSX Railroad tracks that parallel the river. It's not because of any lack of effort that we have'?t been able to find the victim,? Foresman said. As long as we have had daylight, these people have worked.? Recent rains had raised water levels ?way up? on the river last Friday, Foresman said. ?The river changes daily and everyone can enjoy it. But they should be wearing life jackets and especially important are protective helmets,? Foresman said.

Neither Cooper nor his companion was wearing any safety gear. Among the rescue units called on to help with the search over the weekend were the K-9 Alert Rescue Dogs from Nelson County and the Blue and Gray Search Dogs from Harrisonburg. Rescue dogs can scent through water in much the same way as they scent through air. Others who assisted included a Virginia State Police helicopter crew, Sheriff Robert Day and the Rockbridge County Sheriff's Office, the sheriff's office dive team, Department of Fish and Wildlife game wardens from Rockbridge and Amherst counties, the Virginia State Police EMT dive team, and the Virginia Defense Force Company D based in Lexington. One unit came from Maryland to help with the effort. Foresman said there were as many as 80 rescue workers on the river over the weekend.

"The American Red Cross has also been here since Friday and has provided for our physical and emotional needs,? Foresman said. Aside from the use of the dogs, Foresman said the effort primarily has been a visual search, either on the water by the Buena Vista unit or by simply walking the shoreline of the river. Divers search primarily by feel. The work is dangerous for the workers, many of whom are volunteers, Foresman said. The banks of the river are steep and rocky with the underbrush reaching down to the water. The dangers posed to those in the water became evident on Monday when Lifeguard 10 helicopter had to be called to retrieve a group of divers who had been swept downstream in the current and stranded. On Saturday, Foresman said the stretch of the river being searched was closed to all other recreational users with the help of the county deputies, game wardens and state police. "There were just a lot of people on the river that shouldn?t have been there," Foresman said. The incident will be investigated by the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.

Rockbridge County Sheriff's Office: (540) 463-732

8In the drowning last year on the Balcony Falls section of the James the victim wore no PFD; was in a blow up Wal-Mart type raft and (according to his buddy that was with him whom I spoke with the day of the accident) he did not know how to swim. Local law enforcement and Forest Service CLOSED the entire section of the James for 3 days and issued tickets for violators and one local boater ended up in the clink for sneaking by the authorities and getting nabbed downstream. No solid info on the arrest though.

Here is the news article:

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