UPDATE Monday 11 AM: Virginia Marine police have identified two victims in a fatal boating accident that happened Sunday afternoon in the James River near the Monitor Merrimack Tunnell.
The victims are 52-year-old Phillip Earl Smallwood and 51-year-old William T. Smallwood, both of Windsor, NC.
Police say preliminary evidence indicates the boat, a 1975 Manatee, was overloaded with five passengers and coolers. The boat was swamped after the engine failed.
Three other victims were treated at Riverside Hospital in Newport News and released.
NEWPORT NEWS -- Two people are recovering at hospital after a boat mishap in the James River that killed two other people Sunday.
Anglers along the Wave Fishing Pier tell 13News Now they saw a small, crowded boat with five people onboard flip over a little before 4:30 p.m.
Some bystanders tried throwing rope to the boaters who were struggling to stay afloat.
“I said please don’t let it go, please don’t let it go, sir," recalled Tony Pierce, who said he threw a line out to a drowning man. "Then, I saw him throwing up, and the next thing you know, he just gave up, turned that corner, and the current took him."
Newport News Police officers were first on scene. Three of them raced down the pier, removing their 30-pound utility belts and vests, and jumped into the water to try to keep the boaters above water.
“The water was so bad, it was throwing people up against the concrete pier," said Sgt. Andy Shull, who helped throw rope to the officers and the victims.
Shull explained officers battled the rough water for 15 minutes until the Newport News Fire Department arrived to pull the officers and three boaters to safety.
“It was hard for them. They were getting cut up on their hands, their head, and stuff from hitting the pier, trying to hold the people up so they could get air along with themselves,” said Shull.
Two people died in the water.
Crews recovered their bodies at nearby Peterson's Yacht Basin. The boaters' bodies were taken to the Medical Examiner's Office in Norfolk.
Life preservers were found at the scene of the mishap, but a spokeswoman for the Virginia Marine Resources Commission said it wasn't clear if rescuers threw the life preservers to the boaters.
Ambulances took two survivors to Riverside Regional Medical Center.
Medics treated a third at the scene.