BY MEG WALBURN VIVIANO & CHERYL COSTELLO
Tragedy struck a family swimming off an anchored boat Monday afternoon on the Potomac River when they began to drift away from the boat. In the end, a father and his 10-year-old son would both lose their lives in the water.
Maryland Natural Resources Police (NRP) say it happened just before 5 p.m. Monday just off Swan Point in Charles County. A 23-foot Sea Ray bowrider was anchored with a family of five on board. Elias Isai Sandoval Pimentel, 43, of Front Royal, Va., was on the boat with his wife and three children—a 12-year-old girl, 10-year-old boy, and a toddler-aged child. The two older children were swimming off the boat when both of them began to struggle in the water, NRP says. Pimentel jumped in to try to help his children, but he and his son both disappeared into the water and didn’t resurface. The family’s 12-year-old daughter, who was barely afloat, survived thanks to a pair of passing jetskiers.
Bay Bulletin spoke exclusively to the jetskiing eyewitnesses, who are experienced boat captains and instructors with our sister company, the Annapolis School of Seamanship.
Capt. Kelli Gutierrez and Capt. Jenifer Fritz, who both live in the Swan Point area, were out jetskiing together when the woman aboard the Sea Ray got Fritz’s attention, yelling and stomping. Fritz, sensing something was off, headed towards the boat.
Meanwhile, far from the boat, Gutierrez stumbled upon the 12-year-old girl with her face barely above water. Gutierrez pulled her onto the jetski. The girl had ingested a good deal of water. “She said her little brother was holding onto her but he let go and she can’t find him,” Gutierrez says. The girl was later taken back to shore and treated for non-life-threatening injuries.
The captains said the boat’s small, mushroom anchor was dragging and the boat was drifting further and further away—about a half-mile from where they rescued the 12-year-old. The jetskiers kept looking for the two missing swimmers as they waited for emergency crews to arrive.
“We kept going back and forth and back and forth frantically looking. And then I went back to the mother and I said, ‘We got to get your anchor down. You’re going too far away,’” Fritz recalls. Another boat arrived and was able to get the Sea Ray secured.
They looked for the missing victims in the water and along the shoreline, in case they’d become caught up in a branch. “We were definitely losing hope after about 10 minutes,” Fritz says.
A major search effort was launched to find the missing father and son, which included NRP, the Coast Guard, Cobb Island Volunteer Fire/EMS, Charles County Dive and Rescue, Newburg Volunteer Fire, Bel Alton Volunteer Fire and EMS, Hughesville Volunteer EMS, Charles County Department of Emergency Services, Seventh District Fire Company, Calvert County Dive Team, and the Naval District Washington Fire/EMS.
Sadly, the Charles County Dive Team recovered the boy’s body from the water around 10:45 p.m. Monday. Search efforts continued through the night and Pimentel’s body was found at 11 a.m. Tuesday.
The Maryland Natural Resources Police are investigating the case.