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Boating Accident Claims 2 Lives

Alexandria men perish, but Arlington resident survives.

Two Alexandria men died on Friday evening after falling out of their fishing boat and plunging into the Potomac River, and an Arlington man was plucked out of the water by rescue teams, officials said.

The bodies of William M. Heislup, 48, and John E. Walker, 48, were recovered by dive teams from Charles and Prince George’s counties a little after 4 p.m. on Saturday, just south of the Wilson Bridge, said Sgt. Ken Turner, spokesman for the Maryland Natural Resources Police.

Raymond Nolton, 43, of Arlington, was treated for non-life threatening injuries at Alexandria Hospital and released.

HEISLUP WAS the owner of the 17-foot bass boat and the alleged operator at the time of the incident. Both men lived in Lee District of Fairfax County just south of Alexandria near Lee District Park just off Telegraph Road, said Heislup's son Matthew.

The three men had taken Heislup’s boat out on the Potomac for a fishing trip, as they did on a regular basis. At 9:12 p.m., the D.C. Harbor Police reported the empty boat circling repeatedly in the water off of South Point, near the banks of the Maryland shore.

"We got the call at 8:47 p.m. Friday and our Marine Operations Team which was already out on the river responded immediately," said Jane Malik, public information officer, Alexandria Fire Department.

"The District of Columbia Harbor Patrol found one of the men in the water. They turned him over to us," she said.

The search for the other two men continued until 1 a.m. when it was called off for the night, Malik said.

In addition to the marine operations units from Alexandria and the District of Columbia, there was also a fire and EMS teams from Prince George’s County and representatives from the U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Park Service.

EMERGENCY teams used helicopters and sonar to locate the bodies, Turner said.

Investigators are still not sure what caused the three experienced fisherman to fall into the river, Turner said.

None of the three men were wearing life jackets at the time of the incident though.

"This is a very tragic accident that happened," Turner said. "We'd like to remind people that there is a safety message in there. Anyone can fall out of a boat."

According to Heislup's son Matthew, the boat was kept at their home, located at 6118 Redwood Lane, but was normally launched from the Belle Haven Marina south of Alexandria just off the George Washington Memorial Parkway.

"My father was not a speedster. He never took the boat over 20 to 25 miles per hour. The boat hit [something] in nearly 15 feet of water," Matthew said.

Funeral services will be held for Heislup at Jefferson Funeral Chapel in Alexandria on June 22, at 1 p.m. He is survived by wife Holly, and children Will Jr., Matthew and Kathryn. Services for Walker will be held at the same funeral home on June 24, at 10 a.m.

Captain Steve Chaconas, who has operated the National Bass Guide Service on the Potomac River for the past 15 years, said the Maryland side of the river is very dangerous.

"Not only is there debris but sandbars that you can hit when the tide is low," he added. "If that happens it is possible to be ejected when the boat comes to a sudden stop."

Chaconas said that the accident is a reminder to all boaters to take greater safety precautions.

"There are two safety devices you should have when out in a boat like that," Chaconas said. "One is a flotation jacket and the other is a kill switch. The kill switch should be attached to the flotation devise worn by the operator of the boat. That way if that person goes overboard the kill switch shuts off the boat's motor."

In 2005 there were 14 boating fatalities in Maryland waters, and five of those individuals lost their lives by falling out of vessels, Turner said.