HUNTING -- While a Washington duck hunter is probably getting advice to invest in a good retriever, give him credit for marrying a woman tough enough to swim out in icy-cold waters his rescue.
This story by Tyler Richardson of the Tri-City Herald is a good reminder of the risks we sometimes take as hunters, and the thin margin for life and death.
A Kennewick woman was able to rescue her husband from the Columbia River after he fell off a kayak into the chilly water while duck hunting in Finley.
Justin and Melody Priest decided to test their luck Thursday morning at a new hunting spot downriver from Sandvik Special Metals off Straight Bank Road.
The Priests set up on the shore before dawn, bringing along the kayak to help retrieve any ducks they shot.
A little before 9 a.m., Justin, 33, shot his second duck of the day. He hopped into the kayak and headed out into the choppy water to pick up his kill, about 60 yards from shore.
As Justin reached over the kayak to pick up the duck, he tumbled from the boat into the river. His waders began to fill with water, making it hard for him to swim.
“As soon as it flipped, I knew it wasn’t going to be good,” said Melody, 30, in a telephone interview from a Kennewick hospital. “That water was cold.”
Justin, who was hanging onto the kayak, struggled in the water for about five minutes before Melody decided to call 911, she said. She had hunting gear on that made it difficult for her to swim out and reach him.
As Justin’s body temperature dropped, he tried to inch his way closer to shore.
“I just yelled at him to keep swimming and not to stop,” Melody said
Justin was in the water for 20 to 25 minutes before he got closer to shore. Once he was about 30 yards out, Melody was able to get in the water and pull her husband to safety.
Due to the remote location of the hunting spot, first responders had trouble finding the couple. They arrived as Justin was being pulled from the river.
“(The Benton County Sheriff’s Office) finally found him and radioed us where he was, so we got all of our crews out (there),” said Capt. Devin Helland with Benton Fire District 1.
Justin was stripped of his wet clothes and Melody wrapped herself around her husband to try and warm him up.
Authorities, knowing Justin was suffering from hypothermia, called in a MedStar helicopter to fly him to Trios Southridge Hospital. He was expected to be released Thursday afternoon.
As for the duck that Justin went to retrieve, Melody told the Herald it’s likely still in the river.
“I told him to leave it,” she said. “I told him it wasn’t worth his life.”