April 7, 2012 in City

Swollen river nearly claims another life

Rescue team successful; people warned to stay away
By The Spokesman-Review
 
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Spokane’s water rescue team pulled a man from the turbulent Spokane River near Mission Park on Friday morning – the third water search-and-rescue effort in the region in a week.

In all, one man died, one is still missing and two were rescued, including the incident Friday.

Authorities say it is a bad start to what could be a long spring runoff season.

Last year, more than two dozen people died on Pacific Northwest waterways in accidents during the high-water period that will likely last until July again this year.

“We are hoping people stay out of the river,” said Deputy Craig Chamberlin of the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office. “It’s just dangerous, extremely dangerous.”

In Friday’s incident, just before 8 a.m., a man whose name was not given was seen clinging to submerged bushes and woody debris about 20 feet from shore, said Fire Battalion Chief Dave Haworth.

The man was in the river just south of Mission Avenue near a BNSF Railway bridge; Haworth estimated that it took about 10 minutes for the rescue team to get its boat to the scene. The man had been able to remain standing, and the boat crew pulled him from the river and took him to shore.

He was conscious and yelling and said that another man had gone into the river with him, Haworth said. He was taken to a hospital for treatment. Assistant Fire Chief Brian Schaeffer said the man appeared to be under the influence of drugs, according to the Associated Press.

Crews searched the river for several miles but found no sign of a second person.

The Spokane River flow on Friday was just a foot below flood stage due to record March rain and melting snow at lower elevations. The volume was measured at 26,200 cubic feet per second. Normal flow for April 5 is 10,400 cfs.

“It’s running hard and it’s full,” Haworth said.

Farther downstream, authorities spent Monday and Tuesday in a full-blown search of the river from Spokane Falls to Nine Mile Dam for a Fairchild Air Force Base airman who has not been seen since he left for a canoe trip last Saturday at Riverside State Park.

James Adam Ramse-Lassiter, 26, remained missing Friday. The search has been scaled back, Chamberlin said.

The man’s truck was found in Riverside State Park.

Chamberlin said the main rapids at Bowl and Pitcher and Devil’s Toenail are running as extreme class-4 rapids – so treacherous that even experienced river runners should stay away.

Of the canoe, he said: “That would eat it alive and it would be on the bottom.”

On Sunday, Gonzaga University student Christopher J. Gormley, 18, died after his kayak capsized on wind-swept Rock Lake in northern Whitman County.

Gormley was part of a GU outdoor program trip involving seven people, including a guide from the Spokane parks and recreation department.

Two other kayakers went into the water. One swam to shore and the other was rescued.

Rock Lake is notorious for having large and dangerous waves when it is windy, and what makes the lake more treacherous are the sheer cliffs on either side of its eight-mile length.

Whitman County Undersheriff Ron Rockness said an investigation into the incident is continuing, but he acknowledged that the waves were high that day.

“It’s known for storms blowing in all of a sudden and becoming terrible,” he said.

The recent incidents underscore the need to use caution and learn the dangers inherent with water activities, even walking along the bank, officials said.

Last year, authorities attributed one death to a bank collapse and another to a person trying to rescue a dog from moving water.

Public safety officials warned this week that no one, especially children, should go in the river or even approach the river’s edge. The water is so cold and swift that chances of survival for more than a few minutes are slim.

People also are being advised to stay away from flooded bike and walking paths, including a stretch of the Centennial Trail just upstream from Friday’s rescue site.


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