NEWPORT NEWS—One man is dead and another is missing after a boating accident on the James River early Friday that sent 10 people into the water.
The boaters -- six men and four women, all in their 20s -- were crammed into a 22-foot sailboat that left Deep Creek in Newport News on Thursday evening following a party on Menchville Road.
Nine of the 10 boaters were interns or graduate students through a program at NASA Langley Research Center, and the nearby National Institute of Aerospace.
"They were apparently at a party and decided to take a midnight cruise in one of their boats," said John Bull, a spokesman with the Virginia Marine Resources Commission. "I have no idea where they were headed, if indeed there was a destination."
Between midnight and 1 a.m., Bull said, the boat became capsized near Buoy 9, located in the main shipping channel of the James River, not far from a fleet of mothbolled vessels. The location, between the mouths of the Warwick and Pagan rivers, is about three miles from either shore.
Bull said the sailboat was equipped with vests and flotation devices, but they were not being used. "There weren't enough for everybody on the boat," Bull said. But he said the vests that were aboard were inaccessible after the boat flipped.
Five of the boaters managed to cling to nearby debris, and over the course of a few hours were able to propel themselves to shore near Aberdeen Field airstrip in Smithfield, near the confluence of the Pagan River. The river's current at the time helped carry them in that direction.
They then knocked on the door of a residence in Smithfield about 3:30 a.m. and called 911 to report the incident. About that same time, a tugboat traveling in the shipping channel reported that it had struck an overturned sailboat, but could not see anyone else around.
A U.S. Coast Guard crew happened to be in the area as part of a pre-scheduled maritime response exercise, and the crew was able to get to the scene quickly. Four people who had been treading water for more than three hours were pulled from the river.
Nine of the 10 boaters -- the five who managed to make it to Smithfield and four pulled from the water by the Coast Guard -- were treated at Riverside Regional Medical Center in Newport News.
One of those boaters -- Tyler Lorenzi, 23 -- was in critical condition after being pulled from the river, and died at Riverside shortly after noon on Friday.
Another man who went into the water remains missing, with an air and water search conducted all day Friday by the Coast Guard, Virginia Marine Police, Newport News Police and other personnel. His name has not been released, though Coast Guard radio dispatches described him as a man in his 20s with short brown hair and a green shirt.
The Coast Guard announced that it had suspended the search at just before 9 p.m. Friday night.
"We will be picking this back up again first thing in the morning," Bull said. But he said the effort has shifted from a search and rescue mission to a search and recovery operation.
Lorenzi's profile on NASA's online website identifies him as an associate research engineer and a native of the San Francisco Bay area who earned a degree in mechanical engineering from Northwestern University in 2010.
His profile on the LinkedIn networking site says that he was a member of Northwestern's sailing team who enjoys skiing, cooking, sailing, biking and home brewing.
The other eight boaters were treated at Riverside and released.
The exact make and model of the boat, or its capacity, could not be determined Friday.
On Friday morning, 10 cars and two motorcycles -- several with NASA bumper stickers -- were lined up outside a home on Menchville Road, not far from the creek. Car windows on several of the cars were open, and one had the keys in its ignition. A beer bottle was in the cup holder in one of the cars, with a life preserver on the ground nearby.
No one was home in the late morning, though two men pulled up at about noon, and quickly went inside the house. They declined to comment.
A woman who lived next door said her family's pier was being used by the men in the nearby house. The wooden pier behind the home was empty, save for some ties, a rowboat, and a crushed Pabst Blue Ribbon beer can.
George Tatum, service manager at James River Marine Tech Services, a business on Deep Creek, is familiar with the boats that dock there. He said several people in their 20s have worked on the sailboat in recent months.
Tatum said that Friday morning, Deep Creek boaters learned that the boat had departed from somewhere on the creek. Tatum called the James River Marina, Deep Creek Landing, the Warwick Yacht Club and the Christopher Newport University boating center. All reported that they had no boats missing.
Tatum said he and others narrowed the missing boat to be the sailboat they had recently seen tied to the private mooring.
Dan Winters, 72, the head sailing coach at CNU, said the boat that capsized is designed for only a few people to ride at any one time. "To have nine or ten people in that boat is absolutely, totally ridiculous," Winters said.
He said the boat had a swing keel, or a retractable keel, underneath. That kind of boat, popular in the 1960s, is easy to carry on a trailer. But with no full keel to keep it steady, he said, it can easily capsize if it becomes unbalanced.
The Smithfield Fire Department is heading the rescue effort, aided by the U.S. Coast Guard and the Newport News Fire Department. The capsized boat was towed to Brown's Marina in Isle of Wight County.
Bull reminded boaters to use flotation devices when they are on the open water. "Bad things can happen at any time," he said.
He said the tragedy could have been even greater if not for the Coast Guard crew in the area and the fact that people happened to find floating debris to cling to. "It took a lot of luck to get us to this point and keep it from being worse."