Eleven-year-old Tyler Somesaymay clung to a piling, against a rising tide in Potomac River, and waited while a man on a Jet-Ski rescued four other drowning boys.
“I was on the pole. You know the wood thing,” Tyler said as he pointed to a group pilings in the river just south of fishing pier at Leesylvania State Park.
“I thought I was going to die. I was the last one,” said the Annandale boy of the Sunday afternoon ordeal that ended a picnic with friends and family.
Jose Tejada, the man on the Jet-Ski, knew Tyler was stranded, but had to set priorities.
“He was hanging on, so I left him to drag the other ones out,” Tejada, of Lorton said.
An 11-year-old boy, and a 33-year-old man, who was trying to help in the rescue, are still missing.
1st Sgt. Kim Chinn, Prince William County police, identified the missing as 11-year-old Chester Saykhamphone, of Springfield, and 33-year-old Christopher Meehan, of Manassas.
The area is clearly posted with signs prohibiting swimming.
Tejada said he was cruising by when he saw the boys fighting the current in the river.
“I thought they were swimming fine,” he said of his initial impression of the scene.
On closer inspection though, Tejada said he realized the boys were in trouble and enlisted the aid of a nearby pleasure boat.
“I called the boat. He came over so we could take them out,” Tejada said.
“I took four to the boat and then I drove one out,” Tejada said of the boys he pulled from water.
Ting Panya’s nephew was the littlest boy caught by the rising river Sunday afternoon.
She said it the water rose quickly.
“My nephew was one of them. I was watching them and they kept going back out and back out,” Panya said of watching the river carry the boys further from the shore.
“I ran and told their parents to come get them. I had to run from the shore to the picnic tables. By then it was too late. They already went out too far,” the 29-year-old, Fairfax City woman said.
Tejada said he almost didn’t get to Panya’s nephew in time.
“The little kid, he was drowning. He was half-dead,” Tejada said.
“I was so relieved when I saw him on the Jet-Ski,” Panya said.
Captain Jack McGovern of the Occoquan-Woodbridge-Lorton Volunteer Fire Department said the emergency call came in at 2:45 p.m. Sunday.
By 2:56 p.m., McGovern said, rescue units and boats began arriving from Occoquan-Woodbridge-Lorton Volunteer Fire Department, Fairfax Fire Department, Prince William Police, Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, Dumfries-Triangle Volunteer Rescue Squad, Quantico Marine Corps Base Fire Department, Charles County (Md.) Fire and Rescue, Maryland Department of Natural Resources and Virginia State Parks.
When they arrived at the scene, McGovern said, Occoquan-Woodbridge-Lorton rescue workers assisted those who were exhausted from their effort to find the missing Prince William man and the boy from Fairfax County.
“A couple of the bystanders who were searching came into some distress and two emergency workers from OWL Volunteer Fire Department donned life jackets and went in to assist,” McGovern said.
“Two men were assisted to shore using life lines and life jackets,” he said.
“Two are still missing,” McGovern said.
Prince William police Maj. Ray Colgan said the search will continue as long as they can.
“We’ll go until the divers don’t feel safe. We’ll probably keep boats out late and then start again in the morning, but as long as the divers feel safe, they’ll keep diving,” Colgan said.