A woman who jumped off the Interstate 5 Bridge into the Columbia River remains in critical condition more than two weeks later. But her condition might have been worse, if not for a well-timed rescue.
Emergency crews were dispatched to the bridge shortly before 5 p.m. June 24. A couple walking on the Washington side of the bridge noticed a woman getting ready to jump, Vancouver Fire Capt. Dave James said. The couple attempted to pull her back but could not prevent the woman from leaping.
She remained at PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center in the intensive care unit Tuesday night, according to a hospital spokesman.
At the time of the jump, Ron Gray, captain of the American Empress riverboat cruise vessel — which was docked near the former Red Lion Hotel Vancouver at the Quay, west of the bridge — was preparing for a safety drill for oncoming passengers when he heard chatter on an emergency radio.
“I kind of put an ear to it and realized they were looking for a jumper on the bridge,” Gray said.
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Gray alerted his crew, grabbed binoculars and saw a body floating down the river. After declaring man overboard, his crew readied a rescue boat.
The MacDonald family had just departed from a dock near WildFin American Grill in a 29-foot pleasure boat. They don’t typically turn on the radio, but for some reason that evening, they tuned in, Dan MacDonald said.
They heard a lot of commotion on the radio and were initially unsure whether the jump took place nearby or at the Glenn Jackson Bridge on Interstate 205.
“Then I saw everybody pointing at the water at the Empress,” MacDonald said. “It all started making sense.”
The family then noticed a woman floating in the water and that they were the closest vessel to her.
After nearing the woman, MacDonald aimed the stern of the boat toward her while his daughter, Makheila MacDonald, jumped and grabbed her. The woman, limp and without a pulse, was then pulled and placed partially on the swim deck.
“I’ve got limbs and arms hanging off of the boat,” Dan MacDonald said.
Soon after, the rescue boat arrived to take her to shore. James Faull, Gray’s stepson, piloted the boat, and another crew member initiated CPR until they arrived to shore less than two minutes later, where emergency responders awaited near the former Red Lion. After additional CPR, the woman regained a pulse and was taken at 5:28 p.m. to the hospital.
The Empress had 220 passengers and 85 crew members aboard at the time, while a number of other onlookers witnessed the events from shore and the bridge.
Gray, of White Salmon, served in the Coast Guard Reserve and was a Washougal police officer. Dan MacDonald, of Camas, served in Iraq and Afghanistan as a Marine, and Makheila MacDonald is a lifeguard near Lake Tahoe.
“There was no panic, really,” Dan MacDonald said. “Everybody just did their thing.”
The entire rescue lasted five to 10 minutes, Dan MacDonald said.
“I think the only thing that surprised people on the boat was how fast it happened and that there was no one else on the water. She would have been in the water for a good bit longer,” he said.