A kayaker presumed lost in the Potomac River turned up alive and well Sunday, unaware that rescue workers had deployed boats, a helicopter and thermal imaging technology in a three-day effort to find him.
The unidentified man whose kayak and paddle were found in the river bailed out, swam to shore and returned home to Reston, Montgomery County fire department spokesman Pete Piringer said Sunday. The kayaker had no idea that people were looking for him. It was unclear why he had bailed out.
Montgomery police Officer Tamara Maldonado said the man is an experienced kayaker and that he was wearing a life jacket when he abandoned his craft. Authorities declined to identify him.
Emergency responders from Montgomery and Fairfax counties, as well as the U.S. Park Police, had joined the search. Piringer estimated that 40 or 50 emergency responders participated in the search on Friday, and about a dozen searched on Saturday and again on Sunday before they received word that police had contacted the kayaker.
Piringer said Montgomery police had been showing the gear recovered from the river to other kayakers and posting signs in the hopes that someone would provide information about the missing man.
Someone recognized the gear and contacted police and the kayaker, Maldonado said.
“You’ve got to give the local kayakers credit,” Piringer said. “They always help whenever our teams hit the water. Those kayakers are out there, and they usually assist.”
Jason Huggins, a Montgomery officer who ran the search, said police drove to the kayaker’s home Saturday night. He was not home, and they left a note asking him to call. They didn’t hear from him, so they returned the next day and spoke to him. At that point, they called off the river search.
“We expended a lot of resources and energy out there, and he seemed quite oblivious to what was going on,” Huggins said after he spoke to the kayaker by phone on Sunday afternoon. “He’s very thankful that we found his boat and he doesn’t have to buy a new one. He’s a middle-aged man who professes to kayak on a daily basis. He’s been on Craigslist already looking for a new one.”
Huggins said the kayaker told him that he had not watched the news recently and that he had not thought about an empty kayak causing alarm.
Huggins thought the kayaker might not realize the magnitude of the search effort that he prompted. Unintentionally punning, Huggins said, “I tried to convey that to him in my phone conversation, and I don’t think it sank in.”