Rescue workers said yesterday that they had recovered the body of an Arlington man whose canoe flipped during a whitewater trip in West Virginia last week.
The body of Robert "RC" Forney, 42, a father of two who headed a small computer firm and did contract work for the Smithsonian Institution, was pulled from the Cheat River, about six miles outside of Masontown, W.Va., just before noon Saturday.
Authorities said that Forney, who had been out with five friends, was an experienced paddler who ran into trouble Thursday when his canoe somehow veered too far right, hit a rock and overturned. Forney became pinned under a submerged log, said Matt Schafer of the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources.
Lee Thonus, who was with Forney on the trip, said that after Forney's canoe flipped, members of the group waited for him to resurface. The canoe sped downstream. They rushed to the canoe but found it empty. They looked into the churning waters for his red helmet and yellow splash jacket.
"It's kind of one of those inexplicable things," Thonus said. "He was younger, taller and stronger than I am. He was on the top of his game, and he's not alive anymore."
Since word started to spread about the tragedy, whitewater enthusiasts have posted messages of grief and remembrance about Forney on the Web site of the Monocacy Canoe Club, to which he belonged.
Forney and his wife, Dana Rae Small, had a 10-month-old son and a 4-year-old daughter. Forney was "the kind of guy who would work all night so that he could be with his kids during the day," said Steve Small, his father-in-law. "He was curious about everything," Small said, with passions for history, science and culture and a gift for the guitar. Since college, he had played with a blues band called the Midnight Groovers.
"With RC's death, the paddling community has lost a great spirit in a creative man who truly loved communing with nature and whitewater," the canoe club's Web site eulogized, changing the background color of its message board to gray as "a show of respect and mourning."
One after another, paddlers posted messages -- with such titles as "I'm heartsick" and "We are in shock" -- about what happened that day and what Forney had meant to them.
One paddler mentioned how Forney often spoke of his children on whitewater trips, saying that he wanted to help his daughter find ways to enjoy nature. "I am so sorry," she wrote in her posting. "I can't even imagine . . . "
Forney had been part of a loosely organized Washington area whitewater group called the Thursday Paddlers. More than 100 people belonged to it, Thonus said, and every week four to 20 of them would venture out on a whitewater trip.
The last Thursday of his life was one of these trips.
Six paddlers went out that day, taking on the Cheat River, one of the group's more challenging courses. They took along all sorts of safety gear, as they always did, and discussed tactics they would use before each challenging rapid, Thonus said.
The day seemed good, and Forney strong and in good spirits. They coursed through rapids, one after another, without a hitch. They took in the brilliant reds and golds of autumn, lunching together near a sun-dappled island of boulders.
Only at the group's last major rapid did everything change.
Forney had paddled the river six times before, his friends told authorities. At 42, he was the youngest in a highly experienced group. Forney himself knew some waterways so well that he had been designated a streamkeeper -- an expert on their conditions and fluctuations. "You try to put this through your mind, and it does not make sense. It's not logical," Thonus said.
Forney's body was retrieved from the river with the help of four volunteer kayakers -- who Schafer said risked their lives to dislodge the log under which Forney was trapped -- and rescue workers from the Masontown Volunteer Fire Department.
On the canoe club's message board, one mourner wrote: "Such a beautiful river, and yet she swallows a man without a trace."
Staff researcher Don Pohlman contributed to this report.