CAMAS — A 13-year-old boy is missing and presumed drowned after the 18-foot fishing boat he was in sank off the eastern tip of Lady Island in the Columbia River on Monday morning.
He was not wearing a life jacket. An extensive search for him was unsuccessful.
The boy’s stepfather and grandfather were rescued. The family is from Sedro-Woolley, in northern Washington just off Interstate 5. Their names had not been released as of The Columbian’s press time.
Officials said the grandfather is working in the Portland area and the three had been fishing all weekend. They launched the boat from Chinook Landing in the Oregon community of Fairview.
The accident happened about 10:15 a.m., when the three were attempting to bring in a stuck anchor at Island Mile 120 and the current caused the boat’s bow, which was upstream, to spin and end up downstream. The river then came over the boat’s transom and swamped it, causing it to sink.
“We have not recovered the boat. It is at the bottom of the river,” Marine Deputy Todd Baker of the Clark County Sheriff’s Office said at 5 p.m.
The rescue operation was ended at 1:24 p.m. Clark County’s Sheriff’s Office took over the recovery operation and is expected to search again today.
“We searched all the likely spots a person would be,” said Vancouver Fire Capt. David James. “We did a methodical search using map points and went over every spot in the water.”
The river was flowing at about 323,000 cubic feet per second about that time. That is three times the force the river would run in midsummer. Water temperature was estimated at 56 degrees Fahrenheit.
The tragedy is the first boating fatality in Clark County in more than five years, said Deputy Baker, who helped in the rescue effort.
Troy Campbell, 50 of Camas, was fishing with his friend, Lawrence Tapia, and witnessed the three having trouble.
“I made a comment to Lawrence that that guy is crazy for anchoring in that spot.” The area has fast, deep waters near overhead transmission lines. The spot is known as dangerous.
“I saw the guy trying to pull up his anchor,” Campbell said. “The next thing I saw was the boat going down and debris was floating out of the boat. … I yelled at some other boats, ‘We gotta help them people.’
“The boat behind me grabbed onto grandpa, who was barely above water, and then we went to the dad, who was hanging onto the cooler that was in the boat. He says no, ‘I’m fine. Get my son, get my son.’
“There was another boat coming up on my port side, so I let that boat pull the dad out of the water and we floated downstream with the debris looking for the son.
“The dad did say he threw his son a life vest … we saw the life vest” with no boy in sight.
“We went all the way down to the west end of Lady Island.”
Sheriff’s Sgt. Fred Neiman said the county’s dive team was called but, “They said it was unsafe to go in where that boat overturned. It’s between 60 and 80 feet of depth. … That is a real treacherous place.
“The river is unforgiving … wear a life jacket. It just makes sense,” Neiman said.
Neiman said the area is “a real popular sturgeon fishing area. People anchor up in there, which is OK as long as they do it safely.”
Deputy Baker said the grandfather told him he has been fishing many years and had a proper anchoring system. He had all 300 feet of rope out and had pulled in 100 feet when the accident happened, the grandfather told Baker.
Campbell, the Camas fisherman, who was in his 20-foot Thunderjet fishing boat, said, “I’ve been fishing the Columbia for over 20 years and I’ve had a bad experience at that spot and I got lucky. I got my anchor up.”
He said as he went to help the three, “It took seconds and that boat was gone,” sunk.
“You trace this stuff back through your mind and think what could I have done differently, and I don’t think there is anything I could have done differently.
“If this kid was actually 13 years old, he should have had a life vest on. My grief goes out to the family.”
Boaters without sufficient life jackets on board are subject to an $87 ticket.
The 59-year-old grandfather was admitted to Legacy Mount Hood Medical Center in Gresham, Deputy Baker said. The stepfather did not need treatment.
Agencies helping in the effort were the Coast Guard’s boat and MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew, Portland Fire Bureau, Multnomah County River Patrol, Port of Camas, Georgia-Pacific, Gresham Fire Department, Vancouver Fire Department, Fire District 6, Clark County Marine Patrol, and SWORD, the Southwest Washington Organized Rescue Divers.
The Coast Guard Sector Columbia River command center asks anyone who sights the teen or has information useful to the search to call 503-861-6211.
“This is a tragedy that could have been averted by wearing life jackets,” Deputy Baker said. He preaches boating safety every day. “It could have been all three.”
Paris Achen: 360-735-4551; http://twitter.com/Col_Trends; http://facebook.com/ColTrends; email@example.com.