Two Anglers Rescued from Potomac River
Natural Resources Police Warns of Cold-Water Dangers
Life jackets made the difference for two Washington-area anglers who spent about an hour in the chilling waters of the Potomac River late Sunday afternoon after their small boat filled with water and capsized.
Brad David Stemcosky, 41, of the District of Columbia, the operator of the vessel, and his passenger, Charles Richard Frend Jr., 41, of Hyattsville, were treated for hypothermia at Saint Mary’s Medstar Hospital after their dramatic rescue by local first responders.
The incident, which happened off Ragged Point, serves as a reminder that although air temperatures have been unseasonably warm, water temperatures have cooled to near deadly levels for those who fall in, warned the Maryland Natural Resources Police. Right now, water temperatures in the Potomac and the Chesapeake Bay are hovering near 50 degrees. At that temperature, a person in the water will most likely be exhausted or unconscious in 1-2 hours.
“Cold water robs the body’s heat 32 times faster than cold air,” said Lt. Col. Robert Ziegler Jr., acting superintendent of Natural Resources Police. “Cold hands cannot fasten the straps of a life jacket, grasp a rescue line, or hold onto an over-turned boat.”
When water temperatures are between 50 degrees and 60 degrees most people experience a massive shock to their systems, according to the National Center for Cold Water Safety. Immersion causes most people to lose control of their breathing, leading to gasping and hyperventilating. Clear thinking becomes almost impossible.
Stemcosky and Frend launched the 15-foot fishing boat at about noon from the Piney Point Recreation Area ramp in calm waters. The two men planned to spend the afternoon trolling for striped bass on the last day of the catch-and-keep season.
However, when the men began their return trip as the sun began to set, waves increased to 1 to 2 feet. Stemcosky said that they were running southeast from Ragged Point Light toward the ramp with the bow into the waves. Water began coming over the bow and then the stern. The stern of the vessel submerged and the vessel capsized.
At about 5 p.m., the two men entered the water and their automatic inflatable life jackets activated. Stemcosky told officers that the sinking happened so quickly that neither of them would have had time to put on a stowed life jacket. Having life jackets on saved their lives, he said.
The two anglers bobbed near the boat for about an hour. Stemcosky called for help on both a handheld VHF radio and a cellphone.
Trooper 7, the Maryland State Police helicopter based at St. Mary’s County Regional Airport, helped with the search. A fire boat from Second District Volunteer Fire Department rescued the two men and brought them to Tall Timbers Marina, where they were met by ambulances from the Lexington Park Rescue Squad and the Second District Rescue Squad.
Coast Guard Station St. Inigoes could not recover or tow the boat because only a foot of the bow remained above the waterline. The boat remains adrift and notice to all boaters has been issued for the possible navigation hazard.