CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. -- A multi-agency search will continue Saturday at 9 a.m. for an elderly man who fell off a boat into the James River Friday morning.
Officials with Chesterfield County Fire & EMS (CFEMS) and the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (VDWR) said two men were out fishing and heading along the river near the Dutch Gap Boat Ramp, when the driver of the boat noticed his friend was no longer on board.
"[The driver] saw [his friend] for just a split second when he turned around. And by the time he turned the boat around to go back to get him. He didn't see him," said Paige Pearson, the public information officer for VDWR.
Officials said the missing man is in his late 70s.
It is unclear what led up to the man falling out of the boat and if he was wearing a life jacket.
However, one from the boat was recovered in the water, but officials said they do not know if the victim had it on properly.
Search crews were called around 8:39 a.m. and including dozens of personnel from agencies including CFEMS and police, Henrico Fire, Virginia State Police, VDWR, and the U.S. Coast Guard. Along with crews on boats and in the water, they were also utilizing an airplane, drones, and a helicopter in the efforts.
Crews focused their search on an area between a half-mile to three-quarters-of-a-mile down river from the Dutch Gap boat launch where the man was last seen. Several hours after the search and rescue effort began, it transitioned to a recovery operation because of the length of time the man has been missing.
Officials said initially, they used sonar equipment on the boats to pinpoint potential areas where the man may be rather than send dive teams right into the water because of poor visibility and hazards under the water.
"Once you get deeper, it becomes zero visibility," said CFEMS Assistant Fire Marshal Capt. Joe Harvey. "And if you've ever seen this river when it floods, there's trees, debris, all that stuff collects at the bottom of the river.... And it's just safer for our divers versus going down and getting entangled in something that may cause a dive emergency."
Officials said in an update Friday afternoon that dive teams initially picked three areas of interest to investigate.
Crews searched two of those spots without success as of 2 p.m. and came out of the water to recuperate before heading back into the river.
Shortly before 4 p.m., the dive teams were back out on the water to search the third spot. That spot was also unsuccessful, so officials dispatched sonar teams to try and find some more spots to search.
Officials also brought out a canine team from VDWR to help find the man and said the dog could potentially pick up his scent from the boat.
Additionally, a hazmat team was dispatched because of last week's sewage spill that impacted the James River.
As result, when the divers come out of the water, they will be decontaminated by hazmat crews, Harvey said.
"We don't have any evidence that the water is unsafe just with the circumstances of those being so recently, just out of abundance of precaution, we want to make sure our folks are taken care of," Harvey said.
Harvey urged anyone going out on the river to wear a life jacket.
"As a general safety message to anybody operating in and around water, the need to wear a life jacket is tremendous," Harvey said.
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