1 dead, 2 missing in W. Wash. river accidents

1 dead, 2 missing in W. Wash. river accidents »Play Video
Water rescue crews prepare to assist a stranded rafter on the Green River on Saturday.
A little Lewis County boy is dead and crews called off the search for a missing kayaker as churning river waters put a tragic spin on a hot, sunny weekend in Western Washington.

Officials said search crews had found one of the missing 45-year-old kayaker's paddles, and one of the missing rafter's friends said Sunday "he shouldn't have been out there" on the river without proper safety gear.

Meanwhile, the search continues for a 34-year-old rafter who also disappeared on the Green River on Saturday. But hopes are starting to fade for his recovery, even as his friends continue to pray.

"Someone good was taken away from us," said his friend, Fartun Aden. "We pray he's not taken away from us."

Nine other people were rescued Saturday after river accidents in King County alone - and some of them are lucky to be alive, officials said.

Due to the danger from swift currents fed by snow melt, authorities have closed the Green River and Cedar River to all recreational use until further notice. It's the first time in years they've had to take such measures, and it's never been done this early in the season before, officials said.

In the Lewis County accident, a 21-month-old boy drowned while camping with his family at a site near the river just off of the Skate Creek Road North.

The boy's parents were fixing breakfast at the campsite when their son went inside their tent. Later, when they went in the tent to look for him, he was gone.

The child's body was located in the river against some log debris about 50 yards downstream from the campsite. The boy had been submerged and was not breathing when found.

In King County, crews searched overnight for the two missing men, using helicopters and infrared heat-sensing equipment. The search continued by foot and by air at daylight Sunday, but crews abandoned the search for the kayaker by mid-afternoon.

The missing kayaker, a 45-year-old from Seattle, was kayaking with three friends downstream from Kanasket Palmer State Park on Saturday, said a spokesman for the King County Sheriff's Office.

While passing through a turbulent stretch of the river, the kayaks ran into trouble. The missing man went under the water in his kayak, and he didn't reappear.

The area where the kayaker disappeared is in the gorge area of the Green River, with steep cliffs on both sides. The group couldn't leave the water and call for help until they reached the Green River Gorge Bridge more than an hour later.

The missing man was wearing black bib Gortex pants, a black and blue Gortex top, purple life jacket and a blue helmet. He was in a yellow and red Huka-brand kayak with skirt.

The missing rafter was last seen at about 4 p.m. Saturday. He is a 34-year-old African American from Federal Way. He and three other men tied two small, inflatable rafts together and put them in the Green River near Flaming Geyser State Park.

Downstream the raft flipped and all four went into the water. Three of them were rescued and the fourth has not been seen since.

The King County Sheriff's Office is asking anyone who saw the four rafters in the river or the fourth man trying to get out of the river to call them at (206) 296-3311. The information could help searchers pinpoint where to look.

Rescue crews were overwhelmed Saturday by reports of stranded boaters and rafters who were tempted into area waterways Saturday by the unusually warm, sunny weather.

Once in the water, many boaters lost control, fell in or became stranded in the rushing current, fed by icy snowmelt.

"We're going from one rescue to the next, to the next, to the next, and it's a team effort among several agencies," Cindi West of the King County Sheriff's Office said Saturday.

She said one woman who was rescued had hypothermia after clinging to a log in the river for hours.

Another man was warned by park rangers not to enter the river without a life jacket, but he went in anyway. An hour later, crews were out rescuing him from a sandbar.

Of the eight rescues Saturday in King County, two were in inaccessible areas and the stranded boaters had to be hoisted from the river by helicopter. None of the people who were rescued were wearing life jackets, West said.