RICHMOND, Va. -- Jessica George, a 26-year-old Chesterfield native, said she knew about some of the potential dangers the James River can pose before she, her fiancee Tom, and friend Breanne decided to get in the water Saturday. She said she and Breanne planned to float from Huguenot Flatwater to Pony Pasture while Tom used his paddle board.
The river was moving slowly that day, she recalled.
"We originally planned to get out of the water and walk around the Z-Dam because the dam has always intimidated me," she said. "I have never attempted to float near it because I was scared. Except on Saturday, once we got closer to the dam we figured 'Why not?'"
It was a decision that nearly killed her.
With her fiancee walking around the dam, Jessica and her friend kept floating.
"We thought we would just be popped out after going down the waterfall stream," she said. "Since our tubes were tied together, we went over [the dam] awkwardly."
The tubes flipped as the women went over the dam.
"At this point we were scared and trying to get back on our floats, but every time they would get close to the waterfall stream it would send us underwater," she said. "It was clear that the current and water was so strong we were sucked into a hydraulic and we couldn't get out."
Tom paddled toward them in an effort to pull them out of the water.
"As Tom got closer, his board got sucked into the reverse current and hit the waterfall knocking him off the board. We were all in the water now. holding on to floats and boards," Jessica recalled. "Breanne was lucky to get knocked out of the hydraulic, she was able to float a little ways down the river, then she was able to hold on to a tree until help came."
With Tom keeping her calm, Jessica said she could see a rescue team getting organized on the shore.
Eventually, Tom was able to grab hold of a rescue rope and was pulled to safety.
"The next thing I knew, Tom and the tubes were yanked away from me and all I had was a rope in my hand. I don't know where the rope came from because Tom swore he didn't actually pass it to me," Jessica said. "I immediately went underwater and all I could think was to pull myself toward the other end of the rope, I was just hoping someone was on the other end pulling me closer."
At this point, Jessica said she was having trouble keeping her head above water to breathe.
"The water was so strong and going in all different directions I couldn't get any air. I was flipping around underwater and still holding on to the rope. I didn't know how long I was going to be underwater, so I just focused on holding my breath, but I knew help was so close this couldn't be the end!" she said. "The paramedics said I was under the water for about a minute before I somehow popped up in front of the boat."
Jessica believes she may have lost consciousness while in the water.
"I just remember being pulled on the boat and hearing voices yelling to get back to shore and asking me what my name was," she said. "I rode in the ambulance [to VCU Medical Center] where they took really good care of me."
Jessica was kept in the hospital over the weekend so doctors could monitor her kidneys. They told her her kidneys were not processing correctly due to lack of oxygen. She was discharged on Tuesday.
"Needless to say were are EXTREMELY grateful and thankful to whoever called for help for us," she said. "We really want to thank everyone and anyone who played a part in our rescue. And for the record, next time we go on the river (if there is a next time) my family bought us all life vests so we are prepared and safe!"