August 13, 2005


Student Presumed Drowned (Jessica T. Lee and Brendan Cooney, 8/13/05, Valley News)

A 21-year-old man from Bulgaria who was participating in a summer program at the Tuck School of Business disappeared early yesterday morning while trying to swim across the Connecticut River and is presumed drowned, said Hanover police and college officials.

Valentine Valkov was a student at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., said Hanover Police Chief Nick Giaccone late last night. Police began their efforts to locate Valkov shortly after Hanover police were called to the scene at 2:21 a.m., and divers from the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department began their daylong search just after 9 a.m.

Police said they believe Valkov entered the water naked on the Norwich side of the river, and swam nearly two-thirds of the way across the river near Ledyard Bridge before disappearing just after 2 a.m. Police yesterday afternoon said today might be the last day of the search.

“It's very dangerous, and I daresay if they're unsuccessful tomorrow, that may be the end of it,” Giaccone said. “Visibility is about one hand. They're on the bottom just touching and feeling. … It’s so difficult out there, they could have just passed right over” the body.

Because Valkov's parents do not speak English, Tuck staffers enlisted the Bulgarian wife of a second-year Tuck student to translate the news of their son's apparent drowning, said Tuck spokeswoman Kim Keating.

“We were very lucky to have someone who spoke Bulgarian in the community who could help us out,” Keating said. “It was very emotional for everybody.”

Valkov attended the Tuck Business Bridge Program, a four-week course designed to teach business fundamentals to juniors, seniors and recent graduates of arts and sciences colleges.

Yesterday, a buoy marked the place where Valkov was last seen, and a pair of goggles, red swimming trunks and two white towels lay on the side where he would have emerged; students nearby said they thought the garments were his. Police and college officials gathered at Dartmouth's dock, pacing and waiting. College President Jim Wright was among the early onlookers; he said he received a phone call about the apparent drowning at 3:30 a.m.

Drivers slowed their cars as they drove over Ledyard Bridge, sometimes calling out or pulling over to find out what happened. Students who walked to the dock to swim were turned away, but some of them recognized the swim that authorities say claimed Valkov's life.

The tradition of swimming naked across the river, known as the “Ledyard challenge,” is well known to Dartmouth students, as well as police who say they see the ritual throughout the summer.

“It's almost a nightly occurrence,” Giaccone said of people swimming across the river. “There was a group of individuals. This was their last night. They were celebrating.”

One young woman from Hanover talked with police at the riverbank then told a reporter that after drinking at Murphy's with a group of Bridge Program students Thursday night, she saw 15 of them preparing for the “Ledyard challenge” by the bridge. She declined to give her name.

Iden Sinai, 20, a junior from Tampa, Fla., explained that the Dartmouth tradition arose because it's legal to be naked in Vermont but not in New Hampshire. “The challenge is to get to Vermont naked (by running over the Ledyard Bridge), then swim back and get your clothes on before you get in trouble. It's more just a giddy thrill than anything else.”

“We're pretty fortunate that accidents like this don't happen more often,” said Raina Hammel, a junior from Girdwood, Alaska. “There's a lot of drinking that goes on. … It’s a wake-up call, for sure.”

Yesterday would have been a day of festivity for Valkov, who would have graduated from the Bridge course in the afternoon with 142 other students in the program. Several hours after graduation, two students were getting ready to leave Dartmouth, and paused their preparations to speak about Valkov.

“He was one of those quiet guys everyone likes,” said Stephen LaFata, a Duke University student from San Diego. “I worked with him on my first spreadsheet. I did a ropes course with him. … We were just having a blast this week.”

“He was hilarious,” said Annie Leibovitz, a Dartmouth student who was also in the program. “He was always cracking jokes about how he was going to get deported if he didn't get a job here.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 13, 2005 6:49 AM

I told my kids there were 3 ivy league schools they were not allowed to apply to, Harvard, Brown, and Dartmouth. And that was before this.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at August 14, 2005 3:56 PM