UPDATE: Rescuers reach kayaker who was tossed into the Washougal River

He was ill-equipped for the cold, fast-moving water, says fire chief

By John Branton, Columbian Staff Reporter

Published:

Updated: March 31, 2011, 10:16 PM

 

Rescuers on Thursday evening reached a local kayaker who was dumped from his boat into the cold, fast-moving Washougal River near Southeast Blair Road, north of Washougal.

“He was very very lucky,” said Chief Scott Koehler with East County Fire & Rescue. “He was not injured. He was a little wet and a little cold, but not much worse for wear.”

The river was running high and fast after recent rains and snowmelt.

“The water’s kind of loud here,” an official radioed during the rescue.

Shortly after 5 p.m. Thursday, a resident of the area saw the man in the water, separated from the boat, and called 911.

Firefighters arrived in several minutes but saw that the man had pulled himself up on the bank on the other side of the river, the east side, away from immediate road access.

Brian Mull, about 30, of Washougal was later identified as the kayaker, said Sgt. Shane Gardner with the Clark County Sheriff’s Office.

Mull was first seen near Blair Road, which follows the Little Washougal River. The small river empties into the main river, Koehler said.

Officials walked down through the yard of a residence and were able to yell across to Mull, who said he wasn’t hurt and had been kayaking alone. Police offered to bring a boat to the scene, but rescuers told them to stand by as they made a plan to reach the man.

An area resident pointed out a newer skid path used for logging, and said that if the kayaker walked up it, he’d come to a house on a hill.

Rescuers then advised Mull to follow the path and sent officials to Cliffside Drive, just east of the main river.

Rescuers finally met with Mull by Cliffside. Police took him to his car.

With darkness approaching, Mull was fortunate to have been spotted quickly and taken from the woods in less than a half-hour, officials said.

He had been poorly equipped for the turbulent water, Koehler said. His boat wasn’t a real kayak but more of a leisure or play boat, and he wore no spray skirt to keep water out. The boat filled with water, tossed him out and he lost his paddle. The boat continued riding the waves downstream.

In addition, the man had no partner with him, which is a poor idea. And he wore a bicycle helmet and regular street clothes, not a wet suit, Koehler said.

“He was not set up for the caliber of river he was trying to run,” Koehler said. “It was a near miss. He could have been hurt very badly or succumbed to hypothermia.”

An especially grave danger with rivers, many veteran kayakers know, is what some call a “strainer,” such as a large tree with many branches that has fallen across and into a relatively deep, fast-moving river channel.

If a kayaker and boat become trapped in a strainer, the fast-moving water can push against them with enormous force, easily enough to twist and crumple a boat and drown a kayaker.

As for the boat, it later was seen downstream, caught on some rocks, a fire official said.

As of 9:15 p.m., Mull hadn’t recovered the boat, Gardner said.

John Branton: 360-735-4513 or john.branton@columbian.com.