Two neighbors rescued a kayaker from the North Fork of the Lewis River at Woodland on Tuesday after she reportedly became separated by several miles from two other kayakers on the cold, fast-moving river and was thrown from her boat when she reached Woodland.
The emergency surfaced about 4:20 p.m. when someone called from the Fat Moose Bar & Grill, 1388 Lewis River Road in Woodland, to say a kayaker had flipped her boat and was trying to hold on to it. The woman let go of her kayak and managed to swim to a sandbar island where she was stranded, said Chief Mike Jackson with the Woodland Fire Department and Sgt. Brad Gillaspie with the Woodland Police Department.
Neighbors Gary Myhr and John Suetta, who live on the Clark County side of the river there, saw the woman stranded on the island, grabbed a canoe and paddled to her, said Gillaspie, who’d been watching from the Cowlitz County side.
Myhr and Suetta spent some time reassuring the kayaker, Lynn Cole, 52, from Battle Ground.
“She was kind of in shock” and mentioned other kayakers, Suetta said later.
Two other young men, whose names were not immediately available, paddled to the island in a second canoe with a blanket, then put Cole in the canoe and paddled safely to the Clark County side. Cole was cold and wet but appeared uninjured and declined to be taken to a hospital.
Meanwhile, the situation became more confusing as officials heard that two other kayakers had been paddling with Cole and might need help as well.
Myrh and Suetta then paddled downstream to see if they could find more kayakers in distress. They found none, but spotted Cole’s kayak floating upside down in the middle of the river and retrieved it.
Officials with several agencies took positions on bridges, at the seawall and on roads along the river in the Woodland area, looking for kayakers. They soon learned that the rescued woman had been kayaking with her daughter and a man.They had begun their trip above the Lewis River Golf Course, Gillaspie said. Their names weren’t immediately available.
In the minutes that followed, rescuers were told that the man had appeared, soaking wet, at the golf course several miles upriver, and asked for a ride.
When Cole’s daughter appeared where Cole had been saved, officials concluded that all three had been accounted for.
It was about 5:15 p.m. when officials radioed that all of the kayakers were believed safe.
The fact that the rescued woman became separated miles away from the other two indicates that their paddling trip was poorly planned and their communication with each other was subpar, Chief Jackson said.
When rescued, Cole had no flotation vest, Sgt. Gillaspie said.
Cole was fortunate that she flipped her kayak in Woodland, where several people saw her in the water, Gillaspie said. Had Cole continued downriver past the East C.C. Street Bridge and the Woodland Airport, it’s likely no one would have noticed her being swept toward the Columbia River.
Gillaspie commended Myhr and Suetta for canoeing out and helping to save Cole when no one else was in position to do so.
“They put themselves at risk, to go out and help someone, so kudos to them,” Gillaspie said.
Jackson said he didn’t know if the other two kayakers wore flotation vests or had cell phones, but said they apparently underestimated the river.
The river is running higher than usual, and the water is very cold, Jackson said, adding that anyone on the river needs a flotation device.
The kayakers were “ill-prepared and lucky,” Jackson said.
Alcohol was a factor with all three kayakers, Gillaspie said.
Many emergency agencies with Clark and Cowlitz counties were involved in the call.
John Branton: 360-735-4513 or firstname.lastname@example.org.