Local News

Lake Outing Turns Tragic

Posted February 10, 1997

— A Sunday afternoon outing on Falls Lake north of Raleigh turned tragic when a cabin cruiser overturned, drowning a woman and her 11-year-old daughter.

Two men and a teenage boy survived, thanks to the quick response of an off-duty deputy who was fishing nearby. Reportedly, no one on the boat had been wearing a life jacket.

David and Rebecca Burchette and their children, 11-year-old Sarah and 14-year-old Jeffrey were on board the new cabin cruiser with the boat dealer when it capsized. Rebecca Burchette was found dead inside the boat. Her daughter Sarah was taken to Rex Hospital, where she later died.

Officials from the North Carolina Wildlife Enforcement Agency say the family was apparently testing the new boat when David Burchette made a left, then a right turn at a speed of about 35 mph. That caused the boat to capsize.

Dozens of workers from at least seven agencies participated in the rescue operation. It was difficult to find the woman and her daughter because they were trapped in the cabin of the submerged boat. The mother was found about 90 minutes after the 4 p.m. accident by a scuba-equipped diver. Her body was lodged near the boat's steering wheel. Thirty minutes later, the girl was found in the bow. She showed no signs of life, but paramedics tried desperately to resuscitate her on the way to Rex.

Rescue worker John Gray says it was it was a frustrating situation.

Water temperature was put in the low 40s.

"Forty-two degree water just overwhelms you in a matter of minutes," said Six Gray. "You lose your ability to reason."

The three males were rescued fairly quickly. Jim Lebuf, a Wake County sheriff's deputy, heard screams as he was fishing with a friend. His companion called 911 on a cellular phone in their boat, and Lebuf dove in to pull the three men -- by now clinging to the craft -- to shore.

Lebuf was treated for hypothermia; he had been in the water at least 30 minutes himself.

Volunteer rescuers dove in wearing regular clothing; later scuba equipment appeared, as did speed boats and a pontoon boat. Because the capsized boat created intense suction, it could not be turned rightside up.

Gray said mental health workers will be at the Bayleaf Fire Station Monday to counsel rescuers.

There is no word yet on what caused the boat to turn over.

Tom Freeman of the Army Corps of Engineers says there are many things boaters should be aware of at this time of year.

Freeman refers to a "pfd", which stands for personal flotation device, usually a life jacket of some sort.


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