Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Pair of young men clinging to barrel in Delaware River saved by hero kayakers

Area where duo rescued; clump of trees on R is where 2nd victim clung. (Photo provided by Jeff Vinsosky)

By Charlie Sahner

Police, fire and rescue vehicles including airboats were called out from New Hope, Solebury, Central Bucks, Lambertville at approximately 2:30 p.m. Sunday as two individuals were reported to be floating downstream on a blue barrel on the Delaware River near Stockton.  Police and rescue units took up staggered positions along the Pennsylvania side of the river and on the New Hope-Lambertville free bridge.

Meanwhile, on the raging brown river below, a life and death drama was being played out, according to Jeff Vinosky, 21, of Fairless Hills and Gary Lewis, 21, of Levittown, who say they spotted the barrel while kayaking on the adjacent Delaware and Raritan Canal.

Just as they entered the river near Prallsville Mills to assist the two men they had seen clinging to the barrel for life, one of those in trouble broke away from the improvised float and swam for a nearby strip of land in the river.

The apparent good samaritans said they were able to reach the first victim and guide him ashore to safey, but couldn't fight the roiling, post-flood waters and crosscurrents from a nearby stream to reach the second, who was by then clinging to a tree near the water's edge. They alerted rescue personnel, and an airboat appeared soon thereafter to secure that victim.

According to witnesses, the two individuals in trouble had toppled their canoe upriver.  One fan of the Facebook site "New Hope PA"  posted Sunday that he had seen two individuals "struggling" in a canoe near the Black Bass Hotel at 1:45 p.m.

Emergency personnel on both sides of the river have been mum on the incident, deferring questions to one another and the New Jersey State Police, who say they have no record of the incident.

This reporter's guess would be that since the two "barrel boys" didn't need transportation to a hospital, and since it's not illegal to canoe or ride in a blue plastic barrel immediately after near-flood level waters on the Delaware, no emergency officials felt like filing a comprehensive incident report on a Sunday afternoon.

Nor, apparently, in giving credit where it was also due.

Let's be clear.  The pair of young victims in the river, by all accounts, were exhausted, pale, uncommunicative and generally "shocky," having been immersed in very cold, fast-moving water for more than half an hour.  However poor their judgment was in attempting to preamble about on post-flood waters akin to the chocolate river in Willy Wonka studded with fast-moving logs, let's not blame the victims.

But let's celebrate the heroes:  Gary Lewis and Jeff Vinosky.  These two stuck to the safer canal near Stockton on their afternoon kayak run, but seeing two people clinging for life in the rushing Delaware was enough for them to paddle without thought into harm's way, grabbing one victim and handing him their life vest, and locating and getting help for the second.

These two should receive a public award.

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