The Hudson River was calm when crew practice started for dozens of high school students late Wednesday afternoon. But in a scary turn of events, students found their boats filling with water and sinking when the wind picked up.
Annamarie Rosanio, a member of the Wappingers (N.Y.) Central School District girls varsity crew club, was among the students from several local districts who went to the practice.
With the warm temperatures this winter, “we’ve been able to get in a lot earlier than usual,” said the 16-year-old Rosanio. When practice started, the water was “completely calm.” But the “wind picked up, causing the water to get rough.”
About 24 teens were “submerged” in the 43-degree water on Wednesday, said Fairview Fire District Chief Christopher Maeder. A total of 57 teens were evaluated by emergency responders, since “many were wet from working on getting the boats out of the water.”
Five students were taken to the MidHudson Regional Hospital of Westchester Medical Center in Poughkeepsie for further assessment, Maeder said. The students were from the Wappingers and Poughkeepsie City school districts — three students from John Jay High School, one from Roy C. Ketcham High School and one from Poughkeepsie High School.
“All of our students are doing well… they were treated and released,” said Dwight Bonk, assistant superintendent of the Wappingers district. “I commend everybody involved for the jobs they did.”
Raymond Duncan, vice president of the Poughkeepsie school board, said Wednesday night the student taken to the hospital did not have hypothermia and that all Poughkeepsie students were safe.
Rosanio said she was out in the water, in an 8-person “shell” or boat, during Wednesday’s practice. The teams left the Hudson River Rowing Association in Poughkeepsie and were headed toward the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park when the wind picked up.
“There was nothing in the forecast about a violent front coming through,” said Patrick Hancock, head coach and girls varsity coach for Wappingers. “All the coaches keep an eye on the weather pretty carefully. We went out (into the water) at 4:30 p.m. along with several other schools, and the water was dead calm.”
The Dutchess County Sheriff’s Office said the strong winds turned the water rough.
It was around the time Hancock looked north that he saw the surface of the water “getting ruffled,” he said. “I told my girls to turn around and head for the boathouse. Within five minutes it went from dead calm to rolling white caps. It’s the most dramatic turnaround I’d seen in my years of coaching.”
Rosanio said: “The current was going in the opposite direction, which caused it to start making waves. My boat was swamped. The water got in and all of our feet were emerged… our backs (were) wet. The boat could have started cracking but it didn’t.”
Fairview firefighters received the report of a boat in distress at 5:33 p.m. Wednesday, according to a statement from the fire district. They found “multiple high school-aged children in the water.”
Inside the boat, moods ranged from panic to calm, Rosanio said.
Crew members were pulled from the river by coaches into adjacent boats.
One of the Wappingers crew boats became fully submerged, Hancock said. But the safety video all student crew members must watch each season proved to provide valuable lessons. All his crew members stayed inside the boat, he said.
“The most important message is stay with your boat. Don’t leave your boat. It’s not going to completely sink,” Hancock said, adding that like every crew coach, he was prepared at practice with the necessary safety items: Life preservers, emergency air horns, throw rope, tow rope and rescue blankets.