Close Call on the Columbia River: Multi-Agency Response Saves Three Lives


On the morning of Wednesday, Aug. 29, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) Sergeant McQuary and Officer Way were on a land patrol near the Bonneville Dam when they overheard Skamania County Sheriff’s Office (SCSO) Dispatch report a capsized vessel on the Columbia River outside of Drano Lake.

The officers responded to dispatch stating they were in the area and coordinated with Skamania County Sergeant Clifford to meet him at Drano Lake and board his vessel to assist in the rescue.

They left the boat ramp around 11:45 a.m. and quickly located the capsized 18-foot fiberglass vessel that was mid channel, directly out from Drano Lake.

“I could see three people holding on to the bottom of the boat, which was barely out of the water,” said Sergeant McQuary. “Two of the three had lifejackets on and appeared shaken up.”

SCSO Sergeant Clifford was operating the vessel and got as close as he could to the sinking boat. The wind was extremely high, 15 mph winds with 25 mph gusts, making for five-to-six-foot waves. No easy task, but the Sergeant navigated the wind and water to get as close as they could to the stern. Sergeant McQuary yelled to the three holding on to the bottom of the boat to grab onto a line the officers had tied onto the police vessel.

The first of the three leapt from the capsized boat and grabbed onto the line. As he leapt, he took a wave and went underwater for a second or two, Sergeant McQuary quickly helped him to the stern of the boat and pulled him onto the patrol boat. Unfortunately, as the first survivor leapt it caused the other two to fall from the stern into the river. The Sergeant focused on getting a woman next whose PFD was snagged on the capsized boat. She removed the lifejacket and grabbed the line, and the Sergeant assisted her to the stern of the patrol boat.

“She was shaken, appeared hypothermic and was extremely fatigued,” stated Sergeant McQuary. “I held her hand and told her to not let go.”

WDFW Officer Way then assisted the Sergeant with pulling her onto the swim deck on the stern of the patrol vessel. The third man grabbed the line, and the Officers assisted him getting to the stern of the patrol boat. The officers quickly pulled him onto the swim deck of the patrol boat.

Officers had all three of them sit inside the cabin to warm up. After a brief discussion on if there was a chance to save the boat, which was now mostly underwater, they determined conditions were too rough and dangerous. Columbia River Inter-Tribal Police had a boat in the area, and they agreed the river conditions were too rough to recover the boat.

Officers transported the three survivors to the Drano boat ramp where all three were checked by medics. They had been fishing when the boat was hit with two waves at once and quickly took on water.

“We are extremely thankful we were able to make it to the victims in the nick of time. Because of the adverse weather conditions and high waves, if we had arrived only a few minutes later, we may not have had the same positive outcome. We wish the survivors a speedy recovery and would like to thank everyone who responded and assisted in the rescue.” Said Sergeant McQuary

“From the time the call came in, to the time the crew was recovered, 33 minutes had elapsed. Considering the amount of distance, rough waters and other factors, the response by all agencies were exceptional. There is no doubt this swift response by emergency personnel was key in the rescue of these fishermen.” Said Captain Russell J. Spino, Columbia River Inter-Tribal Police.

“We commend Skamania County Sheriff Office Sergeant Clifford, Fish and Wildlife Sergeant McQuary and Fish and Wildlife Officer Way for their quick action under difficult circumstances to assist in this rescue. Our officers went above and beyond, to work together no matter the conditions to respond to the call for help. They exemplify our core values to ASPIRE (Accountability, Service, Professionalism, Integrity, Respect, Empathy).” said Captain Jeff Wickersham, WDFW Regional Captain



The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is dedicated to preserving, protecting and perpetuating the state’s fish and wildlife resources.