NORFOLK, Va. (AP) — Authorities in southeastern Virginia conducted an air and water search Friday for a missing person after rescuing nine others from a 22-foot sailboat that capsized where the Pagan and James rivers meet.
None of the ten people, who are in their 20s, were wearing lifejackets on the boat when it overturned Thursday night, Virginia Marine Resources Commission spokesman John Bull said.
Bull said the group had been attending a party in Newport News when they decided to go for a midnight cruise. It wasn't immediately clear why the boat capsized.
Five of the passengers managed to swim to shore after spending about five hours in the water and drifting about three miles, Bull said. They managed to stay afloat by clinging onto passing debris such as buoys that protect boats from banging into docks.
"It must've been a harrowing experience — clutching a floating gas can," he said.
Bull said emergency responders pulled the other four out of the water shortly after the first group knocked on the door of a nearby homeowner, who called authorities. About the same time, a tug boat captain ran into the capsized sailboat on the James River near where the Navy mothballs old ships known as the Ghost Fleet.
Bull said each of the victims — who are from the Newport News area — were taken to an area hospital and that one person wasn't in good condition, although specifics weren't immediately available. Police were at the hospital questioning those involved, he said. The identities of those on the boat have not been released.
Authorities are impounding the sailboat as part of the investigation, Bull said. He said one of the unanswered questions is whether the boat was large enough to safely have 10 people on board.
The sailboat had floatation devices on board, but the passengers couldn't get to them once the boat overturned, he said.
Coast Guard Lt. Mike Patterson said it wasn't immediately clear who the boat was registered to. He said the water temperature was 57 degrees Friday morning and that overnight conditions showed there was a light breeze with waves probably at a foot or less.
Bull said emergency responders were able to respond quickly because of a previously scheduled training exercise in the area.