Family encourages water safety after swift water rescue earlier this week

Family encourages water safety after swift water rescue earlier this week
Kushi and Neha hugging Dehirio after making it to shore. (Source: WHSV)

ROCKINGHAM COUNTY, Va. (WHSV) - It’s a story talked about every year when the weather gets warm but when it actually happens, an out-of-area family wants to make sure it does not happen to you.

Archana Dehirio was visiting Massanutten with her friends and family from Boston this week. On Tuesday, the group decided to rent six canoes with life jackets and ride down the Shenandoah River from the Elkton boat launch down to the town of Shenandoah.

She said the groups did spread out over time and the trip was going great until a member of the group’s canoe hit a rapid and capsized causing them to fall into the river.

Dehirio said the two girls in her canoe, Kushi Vayyavur, and Neha Janardhan jumped out to try and rescue the women using another canoe floating downriver.

After helping the women, both girls went back to their boat to continue to paddle with Dehirio.

Dehirio said at that point their canoe hit rapids and then she fell into the river.

“I was trying to put my feet down so I could come up but I could not because the current was so strong,” Dehirio said. “At that point, I thought OK, I’m done. I’m going to die. There’s no way anybody can make a save.”

The capsized canoe caused her to be submerged underwater and she said although they were wearing life vests she felt she was still being dragged under the river.

“I saw Auntie like drowning. She was submerged in the water and like twisting around and Neha ran to her and I jumped out,” Vayyavur said.

Vayyavur said realizing her aunt can’t swim, they began to yell for her, letting her know help was on its way.

“At that moment, I heard the sound ‘auntie’ and I said that gave me hope and that one-word ‘auntie’ I cannot get out of my ears,” Dehirio said.

“We’re both varsity swimmers and then Neha is a lifeguard and she knew she was supposed to get auntie to breathe first and then we both pulled her up,” Vayyavur said. “Like I don’t know where we got that strength but we did it.”

As different members of the group were making it to shore, another canoe in the group capsized farther back.

The two in that canoe were able to make it to shore and got help from Dan Bassett of the Bethel United Church of Christ who was able to help the two get back with their group.

After getting to shore, members of the group were able to call 911 and first responders with the Rockingham County Fire and Rescue Swift Water Team arrived on the scene.

This afternoon members of the RCFR Swift Water Team, Elkton Volunteer Fire Department and Shenandoah Volunteer Fire...

Posted by Rockingham County Department of Fire & Rescue on Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Chief Jeremy Holloway said the difficult part was making sure all 15 people members were accounted for but the group did the right thing by calling first responders immediately.

“They were the ones that called 911 and it is very important that when you’re out on the river you have some way of contacting 911 in case of an emergency,” Chief Holloway said. “Please, if you have an emergency, don’t call the outfitter, go ahead and dial 911 so we can get emergency resources to your location.”

Chief Holloway said if you are heading out on the river make sure you have a phone with you and let others know where you are headed. He also said to make sure if you are inexperienced on the river to try and find a tour with a guide.

As the friends and family headed back to Boston Wednesday morning, Dehirio said she is thankful to have the two in her boat and encourages everyone to be prepared when heading out on the water.

Copyright 2021 WHSV. All rights reserved.