U.S. Park Police officers were shaking their heads yesterday about a man stranded on a Potomac River island Wednesday night who refused to wait for a morning police rescue and apparently boated off the island in the dead of the darkness with the help of daring friends.

Despite the dangers of the rescue, "it was sort of a chuckle," said Maj. Richard Cusick of the rescue from Grapevine Island between Great Falls and Seneca.

Cusick said that the man -- and apparently his friends -- took some unnecessary risks when they braved the fast-moving waters of the river during the night rather than waiting for a daylight rescue by police.

Cusick said Park Police officers received word of a boater in trouble at 8:49 p.m. Wednesday when a man identified in police reports as Dru Webber telephoned to say that a friend of his was missing after a kayak trip.

"Within a short time, the [Park Police helicopter] observed a man on Grapevine Island with some type of tent and a light or fire," Cusick said.

The man was able to communicate to the helicopter crew that he was all right, Cusick said. The crew used a loudspeaker to tell the man that they would return the next morning, when it would be light and safe to land the helicopter on the island, Cusick said.

But well before dawn Thursday, Montgomery County officials notified Park Police that the marooned man had called to say he was safe at home. The man remained unidentified, and Webber could not be reached yesterday.

"We think some friends took a boat and rescued him, but we don't know for sure exactly what did happen," Cusick said. "But the people who did go over that river at night sure took a chance, because the river is very swift there."

Cusick said the helicopter crew would not have left the man on the island "if we hadn't been confident that he was safe for the night."