Kayakers rescued from floodwaters

Published 6:05 pm Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Two kayakers overturned in a flooded Farmville stream Friday morning, Nov. 13, but were rescued behind the lagoons on Doswell Street.

Chuck Robertson was one of four kayakers out on the water. He said he and one of the other kayakers had the most experience and knew that in narrow shoots with overhanging trees, the trees must be avoided.

He said the two kayakers with less experience had the edge of their boats collide with the trees. They overturned in high water, and Robertson said one of the two was stranded in a tree away from his boat and paddle.

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Robertson noted that the other man got back in his own boat three times, but he had lost his paddle.

“Once you lose your paddle, there’s no control,” Robertson said.

Robertson was able to get the man who got back in his boat to shore.

This was around the time Thomas Varner, a volunteer with the Farmville Fire Department and paid firefighter in Chesterfield, made a significant contribution to the rescue effort, including making the initial 911 call at approximately 10:12 a.m. He had been taking photos nearby.

“He just happened to be here and heard them yelling,” Farmville Police Chief Andy Ellington said. “So when he came in, he confiscated (Robertson’s) boat and went out after (the other overturned kayaker), and he was able to get close to him.”

Farmville Police Department Capt. Bill Hogan noted that Varner is trained in swiftwater rescue.

Robertson said his fellow experienced kayaker stayed with the one stranded in the tree, talking to him.

Noting that the boats being used had weight limits and different designs, Robertson said the boat he had could handle 700 pounds.

“I’m 250 (pounds) myself,” he said. “I did not feel like I had enough control to punch in there and get another guy on my boat to pull him out. The guy that confiscated my boat was lighter, so he was able to go in and two people got on my boat and came out.”

Meherrin Volunteer Fire and Rescue reported on its Facebook page that around 11:16 a.m., its Boat 5 was requested to assist the Farmville Fire Department with the rescue in the area of North Bridge Street.

“On arrival Boat 5 was launched with (a) Virginia State Police diver on board,” the social media post stated. “The crew was successful in removing the one remaining kayaker to shore without incident.”

Ellington said that by the time the boat went out, Varner had already managed to get the kayaker in Robertson’s boat. The rescue party in Boat 5 met them in the middle and was able to retrieve the kayaker and bring him the rest of the way to shore.

“To be in high water, you should know what you’re doing,” Robertson said. “We thought these two had enough experience, but apparently, they didn’t. (They) need more training.”

Robertson said the rescue took about an hour after the original call went in.

“So it was a quick response,” he said.

Among the agencies that responded to the scene were the Virginia State Police, Prince Edward Volunteer Rescue Squad, Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources, Hampden-Sydney Volunteer Fire Department, Farmville Police Department, Farmville Fire Department and Meherrin Volunteer Fire and Rescue.

“We actually had requested some additional resources that we wound up canceling — a swiftwater rescue team out of Appomattox and a Virginia State Police helicopter,” Hogan said. “They were both canceled after he was rescued but before they arrived.”

Hogan also said a privately owned helicopter helped with the search.