Crews aboard the Foss Maritime tugboats Betsy L. and P.J. Brix were preparing a barge tow on the Columbia River, just up from the Bonneville Dam, when someone on board spotted what they thought was unusual debris floating downriver.
Capt. Eric Braden aboard the towboat P.J. Brix and his counterpart Capt. Dane Howard on Betsy L. initially thought it was a log snag sticking out of the water.
Howard grabbed some binoculars for a better look. It looked to him like a man standing on something. Braden confirmed it. “I said, ‘Holy cow it is a guy.’”
The man was floating downriver toward the Bonneville Dam aboard the remains of a fishing platform that collapsed into the river. The man, who was not identified, did not know how to swim and was not wearing a personal flotation device.
The Foss crews spotted him at about 0700 on June 3 near the town of Cascade Locks, Oregon. He had been on the ramshackle platform for more than 24 hours, some of which apparently had been spent asleep.
Braden unhooked from the barge loaded with windmill blades and went upriver to investigate. The man confirmed to a deck hand that he wanted to get off the platform, which was floating toward the dam in the 5-mph current.
Howard maneuvered Betsy L. alongside the platform. Its lower freeboard allowed the man to step right onto the tugboat’s deck.
Soon afterward, a boat from the Skamania County (Wash.) Sheriff’s Office came into sight. Deputies had been looking for the man for hours. They came alongside the tug and took the man to land. He did not appear injured or in need of medical attention.
“How that guy made it almost 24 hours on that thing was a miracle, and us being there to get him was another miracle,” Braden said. “He was 10 minutes away from almost certain death.”
Braden was joined in the rescue by his fellow crewmembers Dave Nicklous, Thomas Alford, Dustin Everson and Cameron Costa. Howard, on Betsy L., was joined by Jason Baggett, Kevin Dubke and Jay Awes. Every crewmember assisted in the rescue in some form.
After the rescue, the crew went back to building the tow. They got underway soon afterward for Lewiston, Idaho, with intermediate stops along the way.
“I’m glad,” Braden said, “we were in the right place at the right time.”