NEWPORT — A halibut angler who was fishing alone 14 nautical miles west of here was saved last week by other fishermen after he fell overboard from a moving boat without a lifejacket, carrying only a handheld radio to alert rescuers to his deadly plight.
The astonishing drama began at 7:10 a.m. on Thursday, May 29, when Coast Guard watch-standers heard a distress call from a man who had tumbled from his boat into the open ocean near Stonewall Banks, a popular halibut-fishing area about 700 feet deep.
“He was the only person on his recreational boat when he somehow fell overboard while his boat was still in gear,” reported Chief Petty Officer Jason McCommons, executive officer of U.S. Coast Guard Station Yaquina Bay. “He was not wearing any personal flotation; however, he did have a handheld VHS radio he used to contact the Coast Guard.”
The USCG mustered “multiple boat crews” and a helicopter from the Newport air station, but before they could reach the search area other nearby boats — guided by the swimmer’s “local knowledge” and the sounds of boat engines — converged on the location and found the man.
“They pulled him out of the water and basically saved his life,” said McCommons, who estimated the victim had been treading the 55-degree water for about 20 minutes. “I’ve seen this kind of case before and typically they don’t survive. It’s a good thing he had that radio.”
The man, whose name was not disclosed, was taken aboard a Coast Guard motor lifeboat and found fit enough by a medic to re-board his rescuer’s boat to try and catch his 30-foot cabin cruiser, which was traveling on autopilot.
“It was barely moving at a walk’s pace,” McCommons stated. “They put him over on it and he drove his own boat home. He insisted on it.”
McCommons said hypothermia in the Pacific Northwest ocean typically affects victims within 10 to 30 minutes, depending on factors such as health and survival gear. The Coast Guard recommended after the incident that solo fishermen wear a lifejacket, carry a waterproof radio and file a “float plan” with friend or relatives that includes area of activity and estimated return time.