With its warmer temperatures and sunny skies, Sunday was a pleasant day at Great Falls National Park in Virginia before visitors were alarmed to see a young man jump into the quick-moving waters of the Potomac River.
Amanda Perelli, 20, was standing at a lookout at the park with several friends when they noticed a group of male teenagers who had climbed down the rocks to near the water’s edge. The teens were encouraging one of their group to enter the water on the Virginia side of the Potomac River. Many of the teens were touching the water, and they starting chanting ‘Jump, jump, go for a swim!’ to the one teen, she said.
The teen “took his shirt off and handed it to a friend, and I think that’s when me and the people on my side realized, ‘Oh this is more serious than I thought, it’s not just a bunch of kids fooling around,’” Perelli said Monday. Perelli, who attends Quinnipiac University in Connecticut, is an intern with Bethesda Magazine.
Though the teens were not directly at the falls, they were close enough that the water was still very rough. Perelli said it was cold enough that the water must have been freezing.
Numerous people have drowned over in the years in the deceptively swift-moving river and the National Park Service has posted signs on both the Maryland and the Virginia sides that warn of the dangers and prohibit entering the water.
As the boy appeared to prepare to get in the water, there were kayakers on the water, but none were nearby, Perelli said. Her group was too far away to catch his attention to warn him, and she said some other park visitors aside from the group of teens had also yelled, jokingly telling the boy to go in.
He did jump in, and to the relief of everyone nearby, he climbed back onto the shore a moment later, Perelli said.
“Then we got back down to the lookout point and he had jumped back in again,” Perelli said, “and at this point I just saw his body getting taken by the water.”
Several people immediately called 911, and responders with Montgomery County Fire & Rescue Service and U.S. Park Police quickly arrived.
MCFRS spokesman Pete Piringer said Monday afternoon that the teen, who was over 18 and a Virginia resident, was apparently attempting to swim across the river. His friends lost sight of him before he reappeared. They then lost sight of him again.
The teen was rescued about a mile downstream from where he went into the water, Piringer said. He had managed to grab onto a rock before rescuers found him.
Responders secured him in a MCFRS swift water rescue boat, Piringer said. He was brought to shore on the Maryland side of the river, and an ambulance that had arrived near Old Angler’s Inn in Potomac took him to a local hospital.
The teen suffered from hypothermia and injuries that were considered serious but not necessarily life-threatening, according to Piringer. Medics considered the incident a “near-drowning.”
Piringer said multiple people have been rescued from the river near Great Falls in recent years, while others have drowned in the area. U.S. Park Police did not file any charges related to the prohibited swimming, Sgt. James Dingeldein, a spokesman for the department, said Tuesday morning.
“It’s not wise to go into the water this time of year or any time of year,” Piringer said, adding the teen was fortunate to have survived.