NORFOLK, Va. – A midnight cruise on the James River ended with one person dead, another missing and eight others being taken to a hospital when the sailboat they were on capsized overnight, leaving the National Institute of Aerospace workers and interns clinging to floating debris in frigid waters for hours.
Virginia Marine Resources spokesman John Bull said 23-year-old Tyler Lorenzi of Newport News died Friday.
Lorenzi was an associate research engineer for the institute, which does research in conjunction with NASA's Langley Research Center.
Lorenzi and eight others in their 20s who are affiliated with the institute were at a party in Newport News on Thursday night when they decided to board the 22-foot-sailboat, Bull said. The others on board included three graduate students from N.C. State, three from the University of Maryland, and three other NASA contractors, said Robert Lindberg, president and executive director of the National Institute of Aerospace.
"These are young people who are very talented who are recommended from around the country," Lindberg said. "He will be sorely missed."
It wasn't immediately clear why the boat capsized. None of the six men and four women was wearing a life vest when the boat capsized, although floatation devices were on board, Bull said.
Five of the passengers managed to swim to shore after spending more than four hours in the water and drifting about three miles, Bull said. They managed to stay afloat by clinging onto various passing debris such as a boat fender, which protects 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 home in the Smithfield area and 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.
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.
Coast Guard Lt. Mike Patterson said it wasn't immediately clear who the boat was registered to. He said that the water temperature was 57 degrees Friday morning and that overnight conditions showed there was a light breezes 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.