A Wahkiakum County 911 dispatcher called on her own mother to rescue a stranded boater Sunday, knowing she could kayak to the area faster than the sheriff’s office could send a patrol boat.
The boater was among two groups of outdoor enthusiasts who came out to enjoy Easter’s unseasonably warm weather but instead wound up tangling with the cold, swift Columbia River.
Early Sunday afternoon, a 45-year-old kayaker was reported stranded on a piling in the Columbia near a jetty at the mouth of Birnie Slough (in the Cathlamet Channel).
According to 911 dispatcher Raedyn Grasseth, spokeswoman for the sheriff’s office, the woman was paddling with a companion when her kayak sank.
“Jetties are very dangerous. The currents around them are horrible. It sounds like her kayak just got sucked toward the jetty and went down,” Grasseth said Monday.
Her companion left to seek help.
The stranded woman “hung onto the jetty until she could climb up and get on to as much of the log piling as she could and waited,” Grasseth said.
Grasseth, working as a dispatcher that night, took an unconventional approach to the situation. First, she notified the sheriff’s office, which dispatched an officer. Then Grasseth realized her family members, who own boats and live near the area where the woman was stranded, could reach the kayaker before the sheriff’s office could round up a crew and launch the patrol boat.
“I knew they could be there within five to 10 minutes,” Grasseth said.
She called her mother, Cindy Faubion, who is a kayaker. Faubion and other members of Grasseth’s family quickly paddled to the piling in a kayak and a skiff.
The rescued woman was cold and shaken but did not require medical care.
Emergency responders believe the woman, who was visiting from out of town, had limited boating experience and wasn’t familiar with local waterways.
“She’s lucky she’s alive, plain and simple,” Grasseth said.
The second call for aid Sunday was from two hikers stranded in the Three Tree Point area.
According to Grasseth, the couple had hiked west from Skamokawa Vista Park that evening and became trapped when the tide came in.
“They were stuck, surrounded by water, and couldn’t go anywhere. It was so late at night,” said Grasseth, who didn’t know how long the hikers waited before calling for help.
Apparently, the couple had enough supplies to build a campfire, but they became concerned about spending a cold night marooned on the river.
“They had a fire but were running out of wood quickly,” Grasseth said.
A Sheriff’s Office boat crew used the department’s patrol boat to reach the couple around 10:30 p.m.
Both hikers were returned safely to the Elochoman Slough Marina by 11:30.
Grasseth said both incidents should serve as reminders to outdoor enthusiasts that the river is still cold — on Sunday it was 47 degrees — and tides and currents can be unpredictable. Boaters should wear life jackets, and all people who recreate near the river, including hikers, should check the tide schedule before going out.