The tragic death last week of two men who plunged into the Potomac River at Great Falls Park underscores how dangerous the river can be and that its power should never be underestimated. The response time in this instance was almost instantaneous, but even when crews are responding from off-site, they can have their boats in the water within 10 minutes. On Wednesday, April 28, just after 5 p.m., 20- year-old Amer Chaudry of Sterling slipped while climbing on the rocks at Great Falls Park and fell into the river. Chaudry’s friend, Fahad Huque of Rockville, jumped into the river to give assistance. Both disappeared beneath the water's surface and were not seen again.
Career firemen from the Great Falls station were already on the Potomac practicing swift water rescue techniques. “We were doing an evening training session and had put our boats in the river. One of the firemen on land saw the head of a guy go by and called the boats to the location. But even in the short time it took us to get there, the current had carried him away,” said Capt. Scott Smith. “Even though the boats are in the river, at the scene, the river is very unforgiving,” said Smith.
On Sunday, May 1, a Montgomery County Fire Department Fire and Rescue Services river rescue team pulled would-be rescuer Huque’s body from the river near the Old Angler’s Inn. Fire and police units from both sides of the Potomac as well as the U.S. Park Police were involved in the search for the two men.
“THE RIVER TECHNICALLY belongs to the state of Maryland. But we are always in communication, especially in the summer,” said Lt. Raul Castillo, with the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department’s Public Information Office.
Montgomery County spokesperson for Fire and Rescue Service Pete Piringer said that personnel will continue to search for the body of Chaudry for the foreseeable future. “We’ll keep looking until it’s not reasonable anymore. We’re doing a pretty comprehensive search,” said Piringer.
When the two fell into the Potomac, the water level was considered to be high due to rainfall. “It receded quite a bit [over the last few days], which is why we were successful” in finding Huque’s body. Recent rains will once again swell the river, making recovery efforts more difficult.
Smith said they respond to an average of two calls a month regarding people in the water. “People don’t take the river as seriously as they should, is what this says to me,” said Smith. “I’ll go down there, and I’ll see people letting their kids play on the rocks. They just don’t understand what can happen,” Smith said. “The scariest thing to me is that there’s a sign right there at the park that tells people they have an average of seven deaths a year there.”
Incidents such as this one, where a friend jumps in to save the first victim, are not uncommon, according to Smith. “They don’t think it look dangerous. I talked to some of the people that were on shore [from Chaudry’s party], and they didn’t think anything of it when the second guy went in,” Smith said.
“UNDER THE WATER’S SURFACE, you’ve got no idea what’s going on. You’ve got to do what you can without putting yourself in danger,” Smith said. Officials suggest throwing a floatable device or extending a stick or pole to the victim, instead of risking injury to yourself.
Castillo says that even a good swimmer can be overcome by the river because “the water current can really wear you down.” Smith says the unseen objects, such as rocks, can batter a swimmer very quickly in that section of the Potomac River. His best advice is to “stay out of it in the first place. Be aware of your surroundings, get the proper safety equipment, and educate yourself and your family.”
Huque’s body has been sent to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Baltimore. An investigation into his death is being led by the Montgomery County Major Crimes Division- Homicide/Sex Section.
Piringer said the search for Chaudry continues.