Two Men Drown in Boating Accident

Two Men Drown in Boating Accident

Funeral services planned for Lee District men

Two Alexandria men died on Friday evening after falling out of their fishing boat and plunging into the Potomac River and an Arlington man was plucked out of the water by rescue teams, officials said.

The bodies of William M. Heislup, 48, and John E. Walker, 48, were recovered by dive teams from Charles and Prince George’s counties a little after 4 p.m. on Saturday, just south of the Wilson Bridge, said Sgt. Ken Turner, spokesman for the Maryland Natural Resources Police.

Heislup was the owner of the 17 foot bass boat and the alleged operator at the time of the incident. Both men lived in Lee District of Fairfax County just south of Alexandria near Lee District Park just off Telegraph Road said Heislup's son Matthew.

The three men had taken Heislup’s 17-foot boat out on the Potomac for a fishing trip, At 9:12 p.m., the D.C. Harbor Police reported the empty boat circling repeatedly in the water off of South Point, near the banks of the Maryland shore.

"We got the call at 8:47 p.m. Friday and our Marine Operations Team which was already out on the river responded immediately," said Jane Malik, public information officer, Alexandria Fire Department.

"The District of Columbia Harbor Patrol found one of the men in the water. They turned him over to us. He was brought to shore and our Medical Unit transported him to Inova Alexandria Hospital," she said. Raymond Nolton, 43, of Arlington, was treated for non-life threatening injuries at Alexandria Hospital and released.

"We were told by him when he was rescued that there were two others in the boat with him. The search continued until about 1 a.m. when it was called off," Malik said.

IN ADDITION TO the marine operations units from Alexandria and the District of Columbia there were also a fire and EMS team from Prince Georges County and representatives from the U.S.Coast Guard and the U.S. Park Service.

Emergency teams used helicopters and sonar to locate the bodies, Turner said.

Investigators are still not sure what caused the three experienced fisherman to fall into the river, Turner said.

"This is a very tragic accident that happened," Turner said. "We'd like to remind people that there is a safety message in there. Anyone can fall out of a boat.”

According to Heislup's son Matthew the boat was kept at their home, 6118 Redwood Lane, but was normally launched from the Belle Haven Marina south of Alexandria just off the George Washington Memorial Parkway. The three men were good friends and went fishing together regularly, according to Matthew Heislup.

"My father was not a speedster. He never took the boat over 20 to 25 miles per hour. The boat hit some in nearly 15 feet of water," Matthew said. The accident remains under investigation, according to the DC Harbor Patrol.

Funeral services will be held for Heislup at Jefferson Funeral Chapel in Alexandria on June 22, at 1 p.m. He is survived by wife Holly, and children Will Jr., Matthew and Kathryn. Services for Walker will be held at the same funeral home on June 24, at 10 a.m.

CAPTAIN STEVE CHACONAS has operated National Bass Guide Service on the Potomac River for the past 15 years. "That side of the river (Maryland) is very dangerous. Not only is there debris but sandbars that you can hit when the tide is low. If that happens it is possible to be ejected when the boat comes to a sudden stop.

"These boats can travel at very high speeds. When I get a new one it is usually capable of speeds up to 75 miles per hour," Chaconas said.

"When I heard about the accident I immediately checked the tidal report. It was nearly low tide when they were coming back," Chaconas said.

None of the occupants was wearing a life jacket, according to the U.S.Coast Guard. When the accident was discovered the boat was still running in circles near where Nolton was discovered clinging

to a buoy.

"There are two safety devices you should have when out in a boat like that," said Chaconas. "One is a flotation jacket and the other is a kill switch. The kill switch should be attached to the flotation devise worn by the operator of the boat. That way if that person goes overboard the kill switch shuts off the boat's motor."

The bodies were discovered near the Woodrow Wilson Bridge about 4 p.m. Saturday.

In 2005 there were 14 boating fatalities in Maryland waters, and five of those individuals lost their lives by falling out of vessels, Turner said.