First Responders Say Teamwork Saved Six Stranded Canoeists

Picture from Gary Roakes

Amherst Co., VA - Six canoeists that were stranded in Amherst County are resting at home thanks to a daring rescue overnight.

The Amherst County Public safety director says when the river conditions were too dangerous, they left their canoes and backpacks to walk to safety.

Gary Roakes says that was at 9 a.m. Thursday. It wasn't until 12:30 a.m. Friday that they were reunited with their families.

"It was exceptionally dangerous for all parties involved," Roakes explained after the rescue.

He says the six males from Franklin County, aged 14 to 26, launched their canoes Tuesday at the boat landing off U.S. 501. When they failed to return home as expected on Thursday, the father of two of them called 911.

"They were on a three-day canoe trip and were camped out at Balcony Falls last night. And when the water came up, they decided it was better to hike out than try to canoe down the rest of the way," the caller explained to an Amherst County dispatcher.

Roakes says the group had no food or water when their hike ended at a 50 to 60-foot rock face.

"They couldn't go out on the river 'cause it was too risky and they couldn't climb the rocks," Roakes said.

Four of them stayed. Two turned around to find help.

By the time Roakes and an Amherst County deputy reached them, it was dark, cold and rainy. Roakes waited with them for swift water rescue teams from Lynchburg and Bedford County to arrive.

But, the river was too swollen for them to launch their boats. So, they had to use a crane to lift the boat over a bridge and drop it into the water.

The boys were rescued a few minutes later. Roakes says they were tired, cold and hungry, but otherwise okay

"All of us were elated to see the boats coming up the river. Fortunately, last night was a positive outcome. The parents knew their kids were okay," Roakes said.

This story, this rescue would have been much different, if not for the teamwork of first responders.

"Jurisdictional lines don't play into it. We go where we need to go. And if one of our brothers or sisters in another agency needs help, we'll be there," Roakes added.