Steve Arrington climbed up this cliff along the Potomac River on Saturday in Virginia to get better cellphone reception. He was calling 911 after he and another kayaker, Jeff Nielsen, spotted a body along the edge of the river. (Jeff Nielsen)

Jeff Nielsen and Steve Arrington were kayaking in the Potomac River on Saturday morning when they glimpsed something along the bank that caught their attention.

“Is that a body?” Nielsen asked.

The two paddled over, close to a cliff that rose more than 50 feet up along Great Falls Park in Virginia. The lifeless man looked to be in his 60s. He had a significant head wound. He wore a wedding band.

“It just makes you wonder what happened,” Nielsen said in an interview. “Clearly something terrible.”

Investigators from the U.S. Park Police on Saturday were trying to answer that question, having launched a death investigation that began after Arrington called 911.

Sgt. Eduardo Delgado, a spokesman for the U.S. Park Police, said officers had to use boats to recover the body and are working with state forensic investigators, who also were called to the scene.

There are high cliffs in the area, but Delgado said Saturday afternoon that it was too soon to know what happened to the man. Authorities also were working to learn and confirm the man’s identity, he said.

Nielsen and Arrington, brothers-in-law, had set out on a routine kayak outing Saturday. They had gotten to an area of high cliffs near Sandy Landing when they spotted the body.

Arrington had to ascend part the cliff to make the 911 call. “I climbed up a bit to get a bar or two on my phone,” he said

He and Nielsen both noted there are trails near the top of the cliffs.

“He could have just been out for a morning walk,” Nielsen said. “Life is so fragile.”