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crew team hold boat next to the charles river

‘We were lucky’: How two Northeastern coaches rescued a driver from the Charles River

The Northeastern men’s rowing team was training late Monday when a car crashed into the Charles River. Quick reactions by two coaches saved the driver’s life. Photo by Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University

Trevor Appier and Beatrice Sims had been focused on the dozen rowers they were coaching Monday night in the peaceful dark of the Charles River when an odd sound grabbed their attention. They turned to see a car vaulting Memorial Drive and plunging nose-first into the water.

The incident turned an after-hours workout of the Northeastern men’s rowing team into a life-saving event. Appier and Sims succeeded in rescuing the driver, identified as a 23-year-old resident of Rhode Island, just before his car sank underwater.

The driver told Massachusetts State Police that he “blacked out” shortly before the crash, The Boston Globe reported. State Police said his 2014 Toyota RAV4 crashed into the river at a curved section of Memorial Drive near Flagg Street around 7:39 p.m. It was towed from the river later Monday night.

“I’m really glad that we were there,” says Sims, a volunteer assistant coach at Northeastern. “It’s really unsettling to even hear about something like that happening. I’m just really, really glad that it was as good an outcome as you could get out of that situation.”

Appier said he heard no sound of brakes being applied as the driver lost control.

“Once we got him out, he asked, ‘What happened?’” says Appier, an assistant coach who rowed for Northeastern from 2013 to 2017. “He was really disoriented.”

Appier and Sims were overseeing a practice session of three four-man boats. It was a routine workout that had been scheduled at night to accommodate the students’ co-op schedules. The two coaches, who had been trailing behind the rowers in a motorboat, said their training in emergency water rescues helped them respond quickly.

They ordered the four-man boats to stop, made sure the rowers were safe, then told them to row away from the scene.

While Sims initiated a 911 call, Appier steered the launch a short distance toward the car. The driver had rolled down his window and could be seen waving for help in the ambient light of the John W. Weeks footbridge.

“At first we thought that the car was sitting on the bottom [of the river] because the front end looked like it was resting and the car wasn’t sinking very fast,” Sims says. “But then as we got over there, the guy rolled down his window and started to climb out. And then the car started sinking a lot faster.”

Sims tossed a life jacket and another flotation device to the driver, who ignored them and instead climbed out through the driver’s side window and sat on its sill.

Appier brought the boat close enough for the man to stand up on the sill of the car window as Sims reached out and helped pull him onto the front of the boat. No sooner had he been rescued than his car went under.

“We were just trying to get him out and make sure that he could tell us whether or not he was the only one in the car,” says Sims. “Because by the time we got over there, the backseat was already totally underwater.”

There was not a lot of conversation after he had been rescued. They could see the flashing lights of police cars and hear sirens approaching in the distance. Appier drove 100 meters until he was able to find a clearing that would enable the man to be helped by the first responders.

“Thinking back on it, the crash, getting him on, dropping him off—it was maybe five minutes, but it seemed much longer than that,” Appier says. “It was quite the jolt of adrenaline. I think Beatrice and I were both sort of in shock for a moment.”

The coaches reconnected with their team and confirmed that everyone was OK. Then they had another decision to make. They decided to resume the training session.

“We were lucky to have been rowing late at night,” Appier says. “I’m just glad he’s OK. Hopefully, it was nothing serious that caused him to do that.”

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