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Day off turned deadly for work crew

June 10, 2000|By RICHARD F. BELISLE

HARPERS FERRY, W.Va. - What began as a reward for hard work by a Maryland painting contractor for two of his men turned into tragedy Friday when the boat they were fishing in overturned and dumped all three into the Potomac River.

The Dale Ewell Frank, 32, of 203 Sycamore Road, Mount Airy, the contractor, survived the plunge. The body of Ervin Ray Barnes, 27, also of Mont Airy, was pulled from the river around 11 a.m. Saturday. Police did not have his exact address.

Divers continued their search throughout the day Saturday for Jeffrey Lee Snow, 28, of Mount Airy Apartments. They suspended the search at 6 p.m., a Maryland Department of Natural Resources spokeswoman said. The search will resume today.

DNR Officer Ray Harner said Barnes' body was pulled from 8 feet of water about 400 yards downstream from where the boat overturned. A team of divers from Charles Town, W.Va., was working the area.

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The body somehow got tangled in the rescue boat's anchor and was discovered when the crew members raised it, Harner said.

The boat overturned around 4:55 p.m. Friday and search operations were begun by diver teams from Charles Town and Williamsport. They worked off a private dock on the West Virginia side of the river in a development called River Bend. The search was called when it got dark and resumed Saturday morning.

Frank waited on the river bank Friday while divers combed the dark, murky waters for his friends. He declined to comment then and could not be reached Saturday.

The trio put their 16-foot, Sea Nymph flat-bottomed aluminum fishing boat into the river at the Dargan boat launch area. They motored upstream for about three-fourths of a mile to a rocky ledge which crosses most of the Potomac River at that point, Harner said.

They started to fish below the rocks. The river is about 5 feet deep there, but the current coming over the rocks is swift. The water level was also higher than normal because of recent rains.

They moved above the ledge to fish there when disaster struck.

Harner said that once above the ledge the men dropped their stern and bow anchors, but only the stern anchor caught. The swift current pushed the boat downstream headfirst. The force of the water put the stern under and caused the boat to flip over, dumping the men out, he said.

Harner said there were four life preservers in the boat but only Frank managed to grab one. Barnes and Snow were swept downstream, he said.

None of the men could swim, Harner said.

Harner said the men in the water had to fight a combination of swift current, cold water, exhaustion and panic.

Rosalie Gordon, who lives about 400 yards downstream from the ledge, said Friday she heard screams coming from the river. She looked out and saw a man's head. She went in to call 911 and when she came back out she didn't see anyone on the river, she said.

She said Frank was pulled to safety by someone in a pontoon boat downstream.

Barnes body was laid on a stretcher near the Dargan boat launch while rescuers waited for a medical examiner to arrive.

Friends of the three men stood on the C&O Canal above the boat launch area in a quiet vigil Saturday morning while the search operation was under way. They, too, were from Mount Airy.

"They were our neighbors," said Glen Laudich.

Brothers Josh and Ben Arneson stood watch with him.

They said Barnes and Snow worked for Frank in his house painting business. Barnes had a wife and four children, and Snow was divorced and had a daughter, they said.

"They all loved to fish and they had been busting their butts at work for the last month. Dale said he would take them fishing. They finally had time to go out," Laudich said.

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