Portland cops rescue five from capsized boat near Astoria

Portland cops rescue five from capsized boat near Astoria »Play Video
Randy Vanderhoof and Lonn Sweeney

ILWACO, Wash. -  Back at port in Astoria on Friday evening, Randy Vanderhoof and Lonn Sweeney carried out the kind of life preservers from their boat that they say everyone on the boat that capsized was wearing.

The Coast Guard had already sent out a warning that rough seas at the mouth of the Columbia River off Cape Disappointment would force it to stop any smaller boats from crossing the bar after 10 a.m.

Vanderhoof and Sweeney were following a smaller, open-bow boat inbound in Sweeney’s boat, the Teresa D.

The swells were so deep, at one point the two could only see the tops of vertical nets like these on the boat in front of them.

Vanderhoof remembers, “And I just happened to say to Lonn, ‘whoa, that’s weird.  All you can see is the nets.’  And then the next thing you know we came over a wave and the boat was upside down and all you could see was the top of the bottom of the boat.)

“We were kind of trying to maintain the boat, not get ‘em caught in the props and rescue them," Sweeney said. “We got five on board and we thought we had them all.”

“And I saw the bow of the boat and this guy clinging onto the top of the boat, the bow,” Vanderhoof said. ““We got them all in the boat and I noticed one guy was crying, sobbing, and I kind of consoled him and he said ‘my buddy’s still out there.”

The coast guard launched a helicopter from Astoria with a rescue swimmer who transferred to a Coast Guard boat racing to the scene.

They knew how bad it was because Coast Guard observers at this station were watching through powerful binoculars.

They saw how the boat went down.

“He kind of came off the back of one wave and buried the bow of the boat into the next wave," says U.S. Coast Guard Lieutenant Scott McGrew.  It was an open boat, and it just immediately swamped and capsized.”

The boat sank almost immediately.

The missing man’s body was recovered later – still wearing a life vest and tangled in fishing gear.

Despite the sunny skies in the area, spring runoff coming down the Columbia river and huge swells from across the Pacific ocean collide at the river’s mouth, piling up mountains of dangerous water despite the balmy weather.

Vanderhoof is a Portland Police officer, and Sweeney is a retired Portland Police sergeant.

Both are glad they were able to rescue five people on the doomed boat.

“You get in there and you do what you can do to save life,” Sweeney said.

The Coast Guard says the reason boats often want to get in over the bar before it closes to small craft is they can be stranded out there and stuck for hours until it reopens.