NEENAH – Authorities are asking boaters to be vigilant around rescue scenes, following the death of 6-year-old Elijah Vanderhoof Tuesday.
Rescuers, who searched for more than an hour before they found the boy’s body in the Fox River, said Wednesday that boats got in the divers’ way.
Bob Vogt was sailing Tuesday by Riverside Park when he saw commotion near shore.
“Couldn’t really hear what they were saying and they were hollering and finally a guy hollered, ‘hey! We’ve got a diver down!’” Vogt explained to FOX 11.
Vogt didn’t realize at the time, but he was sailing toward the rescue effort for 6-year-old Elijah Vanderhoof.
“I never got close to them. We diverted about 150 yards away from them,” said Vogt.
But not all boaters did the same.
“With the boat traffic it did force us to pull divers out of the water,” said Assistant Chief Mike Sipin, who heads the Neenah-Menasha Fire Rescue Dive Team.
He told FOX 11 he’s not sure if the boats kept rescuers from finding Vanderhoof faster, but he says they didn’t help.
“Really puts a halt to the search and creates some frustration when they have to come out for something like this,” Sipin explained.
Sipin told us the boats create a safety hazard for divers when they get too close.
He said the dive team had a dive flag in the water, and a service boat out there as warnings, but he said he understands these rescue situations happen fast and can be confusing
So this is a reminder for boaters to be aware, “if you see emergency lights, if you see the dive flag, if you’re hearing people yelling from the shore,” said Sipin.
If you see a water rescue, by law you’re required to stay 100 feet away, but rescue personnel say it’s best to avoid the area completely.
“It’s a bad reason why we’re out there, a very unfortunate reason in this case, but we definitely don’t wanna make it any worse by having one of our own become part of the problem,” Sipin explained.
Vogt told us he wouldn’t want to be part of the problem either. That’s why he said he tries to be ready for anything on the water.
“It’s very important, you wouldn’t wanna run over a diver and the next thing is, where’s the kid? So, yeah, it’s real important,” said Vogt.