Divers recovered a second body Wednesday in the area of Deep Creek, a tributary just off the James River near the Menchville Marina in Newport News.
The recovery followed a five-hour search Tuesday after two 20-year-old men were believed to have drowned while swimming in the creek. Newport News police and fire officials reported that two bodies had been pulled from the water, although they have not confirmed they were the missing swimmers.
The bodies were taken to the Medical Examiner’s Office in Norfolk, and the names of the swimmers are being withheld pending positive identification and proper notification of family, Newport News Master Police Officer Donald Watt Jr. said in a statement.
Emergency crews were called to the area Tuesday afternoon after someone reported the swimmers missing. Watt said that the missing swimmers, both Newport News residents, had been fishing before the swim.
The two got caught in a current that pushed them out into the James River when they were attempting to swim to a sandbar, Virginia Marine Police Chief Rick Lauderman said.
The rescue effort changed to a body recovery after about 45 minutes at the scene, he said.
The first body was pulled from the water Tuesday night, but the search for the second body was suspended at about 8 p.m. because of rain and lightning in the area, according to fire department officials.
Family and friends stayed at the scene throughout the search Tuesday night and returned when the search resumed at about 9 a.m. Wednesday. Some hugged and cried as they quietly left the shore after the second body was found.
Divers went into the water at about 11:10 a.m., according to Newport News Fire Department Assistant Chief Robert Craft. The second body was pulled from the water about 15 minutes later. It was found near the location of the first body, he said.
Several minutes before the second body was found, two buoys were put into the water. Virginia Marine Police diver Steven York said the buoys serve to mark items, or “targets,” of interest to assess. He said typically two divers go into the water to investigate the targets and a rescue diver watches from above to ensure the divers are safe.
At one point Tuesday, divers thought they had located the second body, although it turned out to be a piece of concrete.
Newport News police MPO A. Tutone Jr., with the department's marine unit, said the creek was an especially difficult area to search. He described the water as silty and said debris under the water, such as wood, tires and concrete, can delay efforts.
“There's just a bunch of junk in there,” he said.
Tutone said divers expressed challenges with visibility of just a few inches. He said the boats tend to make that worse by churning up mud and silt in the water.
Craft said several agencies participated in the recovery, including Newport News and Hampton police and firefighters, York and James City County firefighters, the Virginia Marine Resources Commission, Coast Guard and Navy.
“I would be remiss if I didn’t…try to mention everybody,” he said.
Craft said swimmers should take precautions when in local bodies of water, which can have unpredictable depths and currents. He estimated water depths near where the bodies were found range from about 2 to 7 feet, and he said depths can change quickly and without warning. He described the transition from the outside to the inside of the creek’s channel as a “steep drop.”
“You have to be aware of the situation,” he said. “Know your limitations.”
Daily Press staff writers Andrea Castillo, Tara Bozick and J. Elias O’Neal contributed to this story. Pawlowski can be reached by phone at 757-247-7478.
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