Women survive close call on the Columbia River

They abandon inflatable kayak, swim to shore

By Sue Vorenberg, Columbian features reporter

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Boating safety on the Web

Safe Boating Campaign

Oregon State Marine Board

There's only one real reason why this story isn't about two young women who died in a boating accident on Tuesday: Luck.

The two, ages 20 and 26, decided to cool off on the windy afternoon by taking an inflatable kayak out on the Columbia from Sauvie Island, said Clark County Marine Patrol Deputy Todd Baker.

"It ended up blowing out into the middle of the river, and they were trying to paddle back with their hands," Baker said.

Neither of the Beaverton, Ore., women was wearing a life jacket.

They also didn't realize how strong the river can be until they decided to leave the boat and swim for shore, he said.

"A fishing vessel radioed us that he found an inflatable kayak with nobody on board, so we recovered that and went looking for them," Baker said.

The kayak had a key chain with some grocery store memberships on it, but no other information. So the Marine Patrol started calling around to regional dispatches to see if they could locate the boat's owner.

"We finally got a call that said the girls made it to shore," Baker said. "They ended up trying to get out of the boat and kick their way to shore. But they were in the chop."

One of the girls told him she wasn't a good swimmer, yet she still didn't choose to wear a life jacket, he said.

She was tired and she almost didn't make it back to shore, but her friend was able to help. The two were very shaken up by the experience, he said.

"They said they learned a lot of valuable lessons," Baker said. "One is to wear a life jacket. The other is don't get out of the boat. If it's blowing to the other shore, get out there (on the other shore) and see if you can get a lift back."

Every year, between 10 and 20 people drown in this part of the river, many because they choose to not wear life vests, Baker said.

"In Washington state this last year, we had over 30 boating fatalities, and almost half of them were small boats, paddlers," Baker said. "People don't realize how fast the river is going. It can go 3 miles per hour up to 7 or 8 miles per hour. They need to realize that life jackets float, you don't."

He said he's glad the women got back safely to shore, but wanted to use their story as a lesson for others.

"Oftentimes we don't get to talk to people like this," he said. "We only get to hear their stories at the funeral."

Sue Vorenberg: 360-735-4557; http://www.twitter.com/col_suevo; sue.vorenberg@columbian.com.