At least 9 dead after charter fishing boat capsizes off Oregon coast with 19 aboard
June 15, 2003
GARIBALDI, Ore. — A large wave flipped over a charter fishing boat carrying 19 people off the northern Oregon coast Saturday, killing at least nine, the Coast Guard said.
Two people were missing several hours after the capsizing. Rescuers searched near a long, rocky jetty at the mouth of Tillamook Bay, an area known for high waves and swirling currents.
Eight survivors — a female and seven males ages 13 to 48 — were brought to Tillamook County General Hospital suffering from hypothermia and needing oxygen because of near drowning. All but two were released, and one of those still in the hospital was there just for observation, officials said.
“They hit a wave wrong and the boat capsized, that’s what I was told,” nursing supervisor Heather Scovell said. “They’re cold, in shock.”
The 32-foot Taki Tooo capsized in 15-foot breaking surf as it sailed out of the bay past a 1,000-yard jetty shortly after 7 a.m., said Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Paul Painter.
Some of the survivors reached shore after swimming hundreds of yards, while firefighters found others bobbing in the shallow surf, Garibaldi Fire Chief Mike Sheldon said.
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“There were people floating around in the water and they were on the beach. Some of our personnel went in (the ocean) after them,” Sheldon said.
Coast Guard Master Chief Lars Kent said other people on the beach, including the pastor of a local church, also helped pull people from the water.
Earl Werneke Jr., 29, of Rockaway, said he brought out three bodies and one young boy who was alive. “There was one I couldn’t get to, I think he’s one of the missing,” he said.
Werneke said he and other civilian volunteers ended up doing most of the rescuing. “I think all and all, it was a weak effort here. We should be better prepared in this area,” he said.
Kent said that although the boat was fully equipped with life vests, none of those found dead were wearing them. Some of those who survived were wearing the vests, including some who may have grabbed one after the boat flipped over and the devices were floating on the water, he added.
The boat’s owner, Mick Buell, watched from shore as it sank about three miles from its home port.
“A large wave hit the side of the Taki Tooo and it capsized, just swamped,” said Buell, who runs Garibaldi Charters, a sport fishing company.
The boat flipped so quickly that the passengers probably didn’t have time to jump clear, Buell said in a telephone interview.
Buell said there were five groups of people, from Portland, Vancouver, Wash., and Idaho, among the boat’s 17 passengers. Some of the passengers were related, he added, but he did not know whether any were fathers and sons out for the Father’s Day weekend.
The two crew members, including captain Douglas Davis, were from the Garibaldi area. Buell said he considered Davis an experienced skipper.
Jeff Folkeme, owner of the Garibaldi Marina, a setting-off point for pleasure boat excursions, said he saw the Taki Tooo sailing past his dockside office Saturday morning.
“Everybody was all happy and jolly. They were going to go fishing,” he said. “It was a normal day.”
Authorities had not identified all the victims and had not released any of their names Saturday afternoon. But a relative of Davis who answered his home phone in tears said, “He’s not here. He died this morning.”
The Coast Guard sent three helicopters and two lifeboats to the mouth of the bay, 60 miles west of Portland, to search for survivors, said Coast Guard Cmdr. Patrick Brennan.
By midmorning, one body pulled from the water had been brought to the Tillamook Coast Guard station and eight others lay on the beach at Barview State Park just north of Tillamook Bay, Painter said. The wreckage of the boat washed ashore along the jetty.
The area, known as the Tillamook Bay Bar, is treacherous, with high waves and swirling currents, Painter said. An excursion boat capsized there last summer, but nobody was killed, he said.
The search for the two missing people continued Saturday afternoon. With 50-degree water, Brennan said, the longest anyone could likely survive in that part of the ocean would be four to eight hours.
Tillamook County Sheriff Todd Anderson said a boat accident reconstruction group, composed of members of sheriff’s offices throughout Oregon, had arrived at the scene to observe the condition of the boat and take statements from survivors.
The National Transportation Safety Board is also sending a team to investigate the accident.
Kent said there has been considerable shoaling — buildup of sand and silt — at the mouth of the jetty in recent years, and that it had not been dredged recently. That can increase surf and wave size at the bar.