Couple swept out to sea


DEPOE BAY — Two people who had recently emigrated to the United States drowned in the waves near Depoe Bay over the weekend.

Oregon State Police, the Depoe Bay Fire Department and the Depoe Bay station of the U.S. Coast Guard recovered the bodies of Miaochan Chen, age 49, and his wife, Wenjun Zhu, age 41. The couple had moved from China to Lake Oswego in July and were near Rocky Creek State Park when a rogue wave pulled them out to the ocean on Sunday evening.

“They were just south of the scenic point there along the rocky shore,” said Coast Guard Lieutenant junior grade Wade Myers. “The husband was trying to get mussels off the rocks when a wave swept them out to sea.”

The couple’s only child, a 10-year-old daughter, was placed in foster care Sunday following her parents’ deaths and the county’s department of human services is vetting as adoptive parents another couple with whom Chen and Zhu were friends. The late couple also arrived in the U.S. with their daughter from China within a week of the couple who might now adopt the girl.

The closest family member, according to Oregon State Police, lived in Akron, Ohio and is coming back to Oregon in the wake of the bad news.

“We’re also in touch with the Chinese consulate to notify next-of-kin,” said David Wertz, a trooper with the patrol division of Oregon State Police.

This isn’t the first incident along the coast that required rescue crews to be brought in. In mid-August, a 24-year-old man from Seattle got stuck on Arch Rock in Depoe Bay but was ultimately rescued. Another tourist, a 59-year-old Corvallis man, was rescued from God’s Thumb after falling 100 feet down the face of the remote Cascade Head viewpoint. That also happened in August.

In early July, a 47-foot U.S. Coast Guard motor lifeboat saved four fishermen and a young boy after the motor on their boat failed. Over memorial day weekend this year, two hikers were rescued in separate incidents from God’s Thumb and two others were rescued from the same spot in March.

The incoming tides have given other visitors to the coast and even local residents trouble, Myers said, and they can be hard to predict.

“Even well-trained individuals have a hard time knowing when it’s going to happen,” he said of timing sneaker waves.

Officials urge those on the coast to be careful on cliffs, where it’s possible to be pulled into the ocean by just such a wave.

“The biggest thing is to be vigilant,” Myers said. “Don’t do anything you’re not trained to do, and don’t get too close to the water. One slip is all it takes to be exposed to the water.”

A day after the drownings, visitors stood at the overlook at the park, watching the foaming break of waves against the cliffs. Dan and Maggie Cheung of Alberta recounted the rescue vehicles, lifeboats and helicopter they had seen converged on the area the evening prior.

Like many visitors to the coast, Dan Chueng said he was familiar with lakes and rivers but didn’t often get to witness the raw power of waves.

“Even though I know how to swim, this is very dangerous,” he said. “It’s nice to look at, but as far as going out there, no way.”

Reach reporter Madeline Shannon at [email protected]

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