A 22-year-old Alexandria man drifted and swam for eight hours in the wind-swept waters of Occoquan Bay and then, after reaching shore, stumbled in the night through thick woods for an hour and a half before finding shelter early yesterday, Fairfax County authorities reported.
While Wayne Jamgochian survived the ordeal, a 22-year-old friend drowned in the bay, where their 18-foot runabout capsized in high winds after its motor stalled.
Fairfax authorities withheld the name of the drowning victim, pending notification of his relatives.
Jamgochian, wearing only cut-off-dungarees and a jacket tied around his waist, reached the house of Marvin Brooks on High Point Road about 5:45 a.m. The Brooks home is a converted hunting clubhouse located in the section of the Mason Neck wildlife preserve that is operated by the state of Virginia. Brooks is a maintenance man for the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority, which owns adjacent parkland.
"He was in sort of a state of shock," Brooks said of Jamgochian. "The first thing he said was could he use the telephone."
Jamgochian called the Fairfax fire department. About three hours later, the drowning victim was found beneath the capsized boat by a search team, but then sank in the waves and high wind. The search continued, but had to be suspended because of the bad weather.
After drinking two cups of hot tea at Brooks' house, Jamgochian set off on foot down High Point Road to the Gunston fire station on Gunston Hall Road, the only main road extending down Mason Neck, Brooks said.
Brooks said he was unable to drive Jamgochian to the fire house immediately because he had to make provisions for his ailing wife. After he finally was able to leave around 7 a.m., he said, he saw Jamgochian, still walking along the road, picked him up and took him to the fire station.
Fairfax police, after interviewing Jamgochian at the station, drove him to his parents' home, at 3715 Duke St. in Alexandria, where he lives.
"He doesn't want to talk about it, he feels so bad about his friend, his father, Michael Jamgochian, said.
Jamgochian and his friend, who Fairfax authorities said was 25 years old, had taken their boat into the Occoquan River from the Old Colchester marina later Thursday afternoon.
Shortly after they began cruising up and down the river, authorities said the 3-day-old motor on the boat died. Helpless in their drifting boat, Jamgochian and his friend took turns sleeping, after dropping two anchors overboard.
Jamgohican told authorities he was awakened by his friend shouting that the boat was capsizing in the high winds churning up Occoquan Bay. The time was about 8:30 p.m.
Jamgochian told authorities he managed to put on a life preserver and then was swept away in the strong currents. He said he tried to get back to the boat, where his friend was, but was pulled away by the current.
That was the last time Jamgochian saw his friend, his father said. According to the father, Jamgochian wasn't certain whether his friend was able to put on a life preserver.
About a mile from either shore, Jamgochian alternately drifted and swam. For eight hours he fought agains the current. He ripped his pants off at the thigh to swim better, county authorities said.
About 4:30 a.m. he reached the shore of remote parkland that is part of the Mason Neck wildlife preserve, home of the dwindling colony of American bald eagles.
For nearly two hours, he told authorities, he wandered in the pitchblack woods, perhaps the remotest corner of Fairfax County. A few minutes after the rising sun began to filter through the woods, he said, he spotted the Brooks house.