Sunday, August 05, 2007

Smith Mountain Lake ~Virginia~


By chance I was at Smith Mountain Lake in southern Virginia last week to spend the day with a close friend and his family when a missing accident victim was discovered by my friend and his brother in law. I had elected to meet the group at the Smith Mountain State Park for a picnic lunch and arrived their by motor vehicle as my friends group came by pontoon boat with 6 adults and 7 small children aboard.

While enroute to the state park I received a cell phone call from Fred advising me that they would be late for they had discovered a body in the water by the R-17 marker and were awaiting arrival of authorities to take control of the area. He was calm and it was apparent that he had taken control of the situation and had followed common sense procedures during this unexpected and unsettling event. Reactions that I will discuss later in this post.

Fred described the situation to me by cell phone and I advised him it was important to secure and note location of scene for later review and advise authorities. He described a large amount of boat traffic in the area and having to reroute several other boats around the area to preserve the scene. He stated that upon first discovery of the body it was first thought that the victim was just recently injured by water skiing or personal watercraft accident and the immediate emergency actions that he and his brother in law had initiated. He then described how the situation changed once it was determined that the victim had been in the water a considerable amount of time and resuscitation was impossible.

It turns out this victim was not from a recent accident and in fact was the result of a boating accident that occurred four months earlier in April in very deep and cold water conditions…

"The body of a man who drowned nearly four months ago in a boating accident on Smith Mountain Lake was recovered in the lake Thursday, authorities said.
Officials from the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries recovered the body of David Reynolds, 44, of Grottoes, after it floated to the surface and some boaters spotted it. The medical examiner's office positively identified the body today.
Reynolds had been missing since an April 4 boating accident that killed Richard Smith, 64, of Moneta. Two other men who had been in the boat were rescued.
Virginia game officials said the 33-foot wooden Hacker Craft overturned in the "S Curve" near channel marker R-17 as a result of high winds and a malfunction in the cooling system.
The body was found near the site of the accident."

Smith Mountain Lake is a large manmade lake which resulted from building a dam in a valley southeast of the lake. It has very deep areas of 200 feet or more with many debris fields including trees, structures, and submerged hazards.

Numerous newspaper articles described the incident and continual search for the missing boater…

"The boat overturned in the "S Curve" near channel marker R-17 as a result of high winds and a malfunction in the cooling system, Martin said.
The cooling device was pumping water into the boat, but not out of it, he said. The accumulating water weighed down the back of the craft and made it unstable in the high winds, which were gusting up to 30 mph."

The Crash
"The boating nightmare began midafternoon on a Wednesday, police said.
At the time, Curt was driving his new 2007 HackerCraft. The wooden boat was a replica of a 1940s skiing vessel that had a top speed of about 45 mph. None of the boaters wore their life vests as they cruised the 20,000-acre lake, located 20 miles south of Roanoke.
Then, tragedy.
Although the incident is still under investigation, police don’t suspect that alcohol or speed was a factor in the wreck, nor did the craft hit anything. It simply "overturned while it was running," according to police reports.
Shortly after the boat overturned, a father and son boating on the lake spotted Curt and Zimmerman clinging to the wreckage, and helped them into their boat. The pair also recovered Smith’s body nearby.
Rescue workers treated the survivors for hypothermia and dehydration, friends said.
As the day went on, Reynolds was nowhere to be found. Divers searched around the mostly submerged boat but couldn’t find him.
At 7 p.m. the boat sank."

The Search
The next morning, searchers used helicopters and sonar to look for Reynolds’ body because at 170 to 200 feet deep, the water was too deep for divers.
Winds churned the waters, and tall trees below the surface complicated the search, police said. For days, they searched to no avail.
Eventually, the search was scaled back.
"There’s literally forests, fields, cow pastures, barns and old houses under this lake," Sgt. Bryan Young of Virginia Game and Inland Fisheries told the Daily News-Record in April.
Although they scaled back, the searchers never gave up.
Every day, for four months, officials with Smith Mountain Lake State Park and its Marine Volunteer Fire and Rescue continued looking.
Divers used inflatable airbags to raise the vessel, bringing it up from depths of the lake. After towing it to shore, authorities put the boat in a secure location and began searching for clues.
Curt bought diving robots and computers for volunteers to better their search. He brought in experts from Minnesota to train the men."

After speaking with my friend Fred and others involved I noticed three distinct reactions to the discovery by those aboard the pontoon boat.

Upon initial discovery of the victim in the water Fred advised me that he was immediately in the process of entering the water to retrieve the victim for CPR if needed. His reaction was a immediate response and preparation for immediate life saving procedures… Fred is a longtime friend and it is his house in New Jersey that I stay at when I make trips to NJ to dive with the Point Pleasant Rescue Dive team to train with. I believe and hope that his knowledge of my training and history of the Dive team may have assisted him in his initial reaction to the situation.

Another reaction to the discovery was the reaction by Fred’s brother in law who secured the deck of the pontoon boat and the boats occupants while supporting and assisting Fred’s initial response. The brother in law viewed the situation in a different manner and in more of a valuable support position. Being in this position he was able to assess the situation in a different frame and observe that the victim had been in the water for sometime and immediate retrieval of the victim and emergency life saving actions were not required.

The third reaction to the incident was that of another family member who took control of the pontoon boat and maneuvered it into the appropriate position. This person also took caution and actions to shelter the children on the boat from directly viewing the victim in the water and keeping other boaters clear of the area. It was also noted by this person the numerous people\boaters in the area that obviously should have seen the same victim in this much traveled waterway.

It appears now that my friends group was probably the first to come along the just surfaced victim for none of the other numerous boaters in the area had responded as of yet. By chance or fate it was Fred’s group that was to be the first to report this incident and also to provide examples of the numerous responses that occur in situations like this…

It has been reported in the numerous newspaper reports of this incident that the victim was a volunteer fireman in the town of New Hope and was one to “React” as Fred did in a emergency situation. One of quick response in a controlled and trained manner always willing to help others in need.

He name was David Reynolds and he was from Grottoes Virginia which is just 15 miles or so North from where I live. The numerous links to reports of this incident go into further detail and can provide valuable knowledge for future reference…


Stephanie (Chesterfield, VA) said...

Thank you very much for posting this. My family was also on the water at Smith Mountain Lake that day and we were in a canoe. As we approached something "floating in the water" we were headed out to see what it was. We were then flagged down by the family in the pontoon boat who, luckily, told us that it was bad and make sure that we didn't bring our kids over there. Since then, I've wanted to thank that family for sparing our children from the sight that their children had to see. Although I know it was not pleasant for them, I'm glad that the man was found and can now be at peace and so can his family.

RightsideVA said...

The man on the pontoon boat that warned you is my friend from NJ and I know him well. He did very well with the situation and I am proud to call him a friend in and after college we lived near water for sometime. He has learned rescue skills from associating with this Dive Team and its leader and it was good to see how well he handled the situation. I will be sure to pass on your comments to him...


Anonymous said...

Hi. My family & I found the body. We called 911 & waited until help arrived 30 minutes later. We warned people with children to stay away, but I'm sure if you were anywhere near the vacinity of the body there was no question of what it was. We stayed with 911 until they cleared us to leave and we were in contact with their people until the next evening when they were able to make contact with the family who were unreachable the day he emerged. Not trying to steal anyone's thunder but my sister saw this website & I just thought I'd respond. Of course we are very glad as well that the man was found & the family can finally start to experience some closure.