Accident Database

Report ID# 3757

  • Flush Drowning
  • Does not Apply
  • Other

Accident Description

Woman drowns on James River float trip

Parker Michels-Boyce

Emergency responders process the scene where the body of Hope F. Stoeckel, of Georgetown, Del., was pulled from the James River near Percivals Island in Amherst County, on July 8, 2013.

A family tubing trip turned deadly on the James River on Monday afternoon. Paramedics were alerted at about 1 p.m. to a potential drowning on the north bank of the river, near the east end of Percival’s Island and downstream from downtown Lynchburg. When they arrived, they found 69-year-old Hope F. Stoeckel, of Georgetown, Del., but were unable to resuscitate her, according to an Amherst County Sheriff’s Office news release. Authorities believe she slipped out of an inner tube and was unable to right herself while on a trip with the James River Float Company. Company owner Mason Basten said Stoeckel was on an unguided float with her husband and two grandchildren. The grandchildren made their way back to the float company, which is located on the Amherst County side of the river just downstream from the John Lynch Bridge, and told employees their grandparents had fallen off their tubes, Basten said. A company guide took a boat downstream, found Stoeckel and her husband and took them to shore, where he performed CPR until paramedics arrived, Basten said. Stoeckel was wearing a life jacket, he said. Her body has been sent to the Medical Examiner’s Office in Roanoke.

The company had called off float trips from Thursday to Saturday last week due to high waters and swift currents, Basten said. Float trips resumed Sunday, and a group had gone out without incident earlier Monday, he added. The float company cancels trips when the river flows above 7,000 cubic feet per second, Basten said. According to preliminary reports from the U.S. Geological Survey, the James River at Holcomb Rock measured at 6,770 cubic feet per second at 1 p.m. Monday.

Holcomb Rock is the closest upriver reporting station to downtown Lynchburg, located at least 12 miles upstream from the site of the drowning. Late Monday afternoon, the James River Float Company issued a news release saying company officials are not yet certain of the chain of events leading to Stoeckel’s death and to speculate at this point would be “inappropriate.” “We at James River Float Company are deeply devastated and our hearts and prayers go out to the family,” the release states.

Contact Steve Hardy at (434)​ A

Dangerous Day on The James River

Posted: Jul 08, 2013

By James Gherardi High Water Levels Force James River Float Co. to Change Plans

UPDATE: Investigators ID Apparent Drowning Victim

Amherst Co., VA - Monday was a deadly day on the James River. A 69-year-old woman was tubing, when she went underwater and did not come back up. No indication yet of the exact cause of the probable drowning. Hope Stoeckel was on the river with her husband and her grandchildren, when something went terribly wrong. It was a sunny summer day turned deadly on the James. It started as a family outing; tubing with the James River Float Company. But somehow, first responders say, along the way, a 69-year-old grandmother went under the water and didn't come back up.

When officials arrived at a landing near Percival's Island, they say a guide with the float company had pulled the woman from the water, and was performing CPR. But it was too late. This was the company's first drowning ever. In a statement, they told ABC 13 News, water in the river was at a normal spring level and that all members of the group were wearing personal flotation devices. Just hours later, another distressed person was pulled from the banks of the James. This time, it was an experienced kayaker. "There are a lot of obstacles in the water right now" said Jason Campbell, a Lynchburg Battalion Chief. Campbell responded to both incidents. "Water levels are up and the currents are up, and when the water levels are up, the water currents are also up. From the embankment in some cases, it doesn't necessarily look like the river may be up as high as some people think" said Campbell. A current can you pull you in and pull you under, in an instant. "It's still very early on in the summer. Just please be careful when you're on the river, be prepared, and have an emergency plan" said Campbell. The guide from the James River Float Company performed CPR pm the drowning victim until first responders arrived. An autopsy will determine if any other medical condition may have caused the woman to lose consciousness and fall into the water.

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