Fisherman perishes

Published 5:32 pm Monday, March 21, 2011


RIVERDALE—A Suffolk man died when the boat he and two other Suffolk men were riding in capsized on the Nottoway River Monday.

Officers with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries recovered the body of George Beale, 46, at 8:15 p.m. It was located within 50 yards upstream of where the boat capsized near the General Vaughn Bridge boat landing in Southampton County.

Boaters James Harrell and Roderick Copeland were rescued by a team of aquatic biologists who were at the river to do a survey on freshwater mussels. Harrell and Copeland were treated for hypothermia at Southampton Memorial Hospital, said Julie Dixon, spokeswoman for the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries in Richmond.

Copeland was released by 4:30 p.m. Monday, said Anne Williams, director of marketing at Southampton Memorial Hospital. Harrell was admitted in stable condition. Williams could not be reached Tuesday for an update on Harrell.

The fishermen were not wearing lifejackets, but had flotation devices on board, Dixon said.

Officials reported that the three had launched their boat at about 8:30 a.m., and the boat capsized soon afterward.

Sgt. T.J. Worrell, a conservation officer with the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, said the craft tipped over “when one of them stood up and got off balance.” Harrell and Copeland said Beale went under and disappeared.

Rescuer Mitchell Norman, who is with the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, said he was just beginning to prepare his boat when he saw the capsized boat and one man waving and yelling.

“I knew it was a crisis situation,” Norman said.

He immediately went out in his boat and pulled the two men into it.

“I never saw the third,” Norman said.

He added that Harrell and Copeland had been in 57-degree water for about one hour. Norman estimated the boat was 300 yards from the landing site, and that the river’s depth where the men were found is about 17 feet.

Beale’s body was recovered by a Department of Game and Inland Fisheries team using side-scanning sonar. Worrell said when the body was located, the team marked the spot. Then divers recovered Beale within minutes as family looked on.

The body was sent to a medical examiner to determine the cause of death; it will be a few days before results are announced. Worrell said more than likely death was due to drowning.

During the search, Beale’s friends and family, including his mother, Eva Jean Newton, and wife, Annette, stood on the riverbank watching the search boat. The couple has three children.

Beale’s stepfather, Charles Newton, said Beale knew how to swim.

Other responders included officers from Franklin Fire and Rescue, Southampton County Sheriff’s Office and the U.S. Coast Guard.

Tracy Agnew, news editor at The Suffolk News-Herald, contributed to this story.