The Coast Guard rescued a mariner in distress approximately 6 miles west of the Columbia River mouth Friday, Feb. 3. Multiple units responded and saved the mariner as the disabled 35-foot vessel Sandpiper was capsized by a breaking wave.
At 10 a.m., Sector Columbia River watchstanders received an audible MAYDAY call via VHF marine-band radio channel 16. No further information was provided in the radio transmission. An approximate position of the distress call origin was determined using radio tower triangulation.
A Station Cape Disappointment crew aboard a 47-foot Motor Lifeboat and an MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter aircrew of the Advanced Rescue Helicopter School launched from Station Cape Disappointment. Multiple crews of the National Motor Lifeboat School who were conducting training in the area also diverted to respond. Coast Guard crews were on scene at approximately 10:40 a.m.
On scene personnel communicated with the distressed mariner and learned that the vessel was taking on water. On scene conditions were reported to be 20-foot seas and extremely high windspeeds.
The rescue swimmer, a student of the Advanced Helicopter Rescue School, was deployed to the water using a winch cable before swimming toward the vessel. As the swimmer made his approach, a breaking wave capsized the vessel. The mariner was ejected from the vessel as a result and suffered minor injuries.
The swimmer proceeded to retrieve the mariner from the water and both were hoisted to the helicopter using a winch cable.
The survivor was transported to awaiting emergency medical personnel at Air Station Astoria and was in stable condition when transferred from the Coast Guard’s care.
After the mariner was released to the care of emergency medical personnel, local authorities notified the Coast Guard that the individual is suspected to have stolen the vessel. Astoria Police Department is leading that investigation.
As a rescue swimmer, this was Aviation Survival Technician 3rd Class John “Branch” Walton’s first life saved. Hours later, he and his classmates graduated from the Advanced Rescue Helicopter School.