SEATTLE — A man who was saved by a Coast Guard rescue swimmer at the mouth of the Columbia River on Friday as a massive wave rolled the yacht he was piloting turned out to be wanted for a bizarre incident in which police said he left a dead fish at the Astoria, Oregon, home featured in the classic 1985 film, “The Goonies.”
Officers had been looking for the man since Wednesday, when an acquaintance alerted them to a video he had posted on social media of himself leaving the fish at the house and then dancing around the property, said Astoria Police Chief Stacy Kelly.
Early Friday afternoon, the Coast Guard shared stunning video of a rescue made a few hours earlier, in which a newly minted rescue swimmer lowered by cable from a helicopter swam to a 35-feet yacht that was struggling in heavy surf. As the swimmer approached the vessel, a large wave slammed into it, rolling the boat completely over and throwing the man onboard into the water.
The swimmer reached the man and pulled him to safety. The helicopter crew flew him to Coast Guard Base Astoria, where medics treated him for mild hypothermia and transported him to a local hospital.
The owner of the yacht, who lives in nearby Warrenton, Oregon, reported the vessel stolen later Friday, the police chief said.
By the time police saw the Coast Guard’s photos and video and realized it was the same person who they said covered over security cameras at the Goonies house and left the dead fish on the porch, the hospital had already released him. Police were still looking for him as of Friday evening.
Kelly didn’t know what kind of fish it was, but said it had been caught locally, because after the man’s video from the Goonies house started circulating, another person called police to report having taken the man out fishing.
“It’s been a really odd 48 hours,” he said.
Kelly identified the man as Jericho Labonte, 35, of Victoria, British Columbia. Labonte is also wanted in British Columbia on criminal harassment, mischief and failure to comply cases from last fall, Kelly said.
The mouth of the Columbia, the largest North American river that flows into the Pacific Ocean, has such notoriously rough seas that it is known as “the graveyard of the Pacific.” The Coast Guard was conducting several trainings nearby when the mayday call from the yacht came in at about 10 a.m. Friday, said Petty Officer Michael Clark.
The mayday call contained no information about vessel location or what the problem was, but the agency was able to triangulate roughly where the call was coming from, Clark said. Crews on vessels and in a helicopter who happened to be training nearby responded.
They found the yacht, the P/C Sandpiper, taking on water in 20-foot (6-meter) seas — meaning the height of a wave from the previous trough could be as much as 40 feet (12 meters), Clark said.
The rescue swimmer — who was on his first rescue just after graduating from the Coast Guard’s rescue swimmer program — was lowered from the helicopter by a cable. As he neared the vessel, the man on board climbed onto the stern, preparing to get into the water.
But just then a huge wave slammed the boat, throwing him into the surf. The wave struck so violently that the vessel rolled completely over and wound up floating upright.
The swimmer managed to locate the man in the surf and pulled him to safety.
“It’s a bit of a christening for a new rescue swimmer,” Clark said.