At about 10:40 am May 9, 2018, Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fisheries Enforcement (CRITFE) officers responded to a distress call for a capsized fishing boat and its three occupants in the water near the Wyeth Treaty Fishing Access Site, six miles east of Cascade Locks, Oregon. Upon arrival at the incident site, CRITFE officers encountered a Warm Springs tribal fishing crew providing assistance and had already rescued one person from the river. The officers located the partially submerged boat mid-channel downstream of Wyeth and rescued a survivor who was still clinging to it. The civilian crew rescued the third survivor who was floating nearby. By 11:00 am, all three occupants were safely ashore and being treated for hypothermia by the Cascade Locks EMS team.
“The quick and efficient response of both the Warm Springs fishing crew and CRITFE saved three lives today,” said Jaime Pinkham, executive director of CRITFC.
The boat capsized after waves from the high springtime Columbia Gorge winds swamped it as the fishers were returning to the Wyeth dock with their morning catch. The water was 55 degrees F, a temperature at which hypothermia-caused exhaustion or unconsciousness would occur in one to two hours.
The boat occupants were Nez Perce tribal members engaged in the spring ceremonial chinook fishery. All were wearing floatation devices and had followed recommended emergency procedures including staying near the boat and keeping in close proximity to one another, which contributed to the positive outcome of the incident.
“For some of the CRITFE officers, this was not their first rescue operation,” said CRITFE Chief Mitch Hicks. “Their training and experience, along with CRITFE’s partnerships with the Oregon State Marine Board, the U.S. Coast Guard, and other local law enforcement agencies enabled us to respond rapidly and efficiently. Their quick response made a difference in the lives of not only the three survivors, but also their families and friends.”