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Three River Drownings in Five Days Give Sober Reminder of the Importance of Water Safety

Over the past week, local swift water rescue teams were called on three separate incidents.  Unfortunately in each incident the call out turned from rescue to recovery.

Overturned Boat

Two men were boating on the White River Thursday evening.   A 911 call at 5:27 pm reported that the 10′ Jon boat had overturned near the 3400 block of Stuck River Dr.  One of the men was able to swim to shore, the second was not.

According to Sgt Ryan Abbott of the King County Sheriff’s Office, the two men were setting up a fishing net when the boat somehow overturned.  “The 45-year-old male knew how to swim, the 65-year-old male did not,” said Abbott.

Crews from Valley Regional Fire Authority, Renton Regional Fire Authority, Puget Sound Fire, King County Medic One, the Auburn Police Department and King County Sheriff’s Department all assisted in searching for the man still in the water.  Thursday’s search had to be terminated due to a lack of light.  The search was turned over to the King County Sheriff’s Office, who continued looking the following morning.

“Engineers restricted the flow from the Dam which significantly lowered the water which allowed us to quickly search the area,” explained Abbott.

The 65-year-old man was found early Friday morning, deceased in the river.  His name has not yet been released.

The Jon Boat was also recovered.  Abbott confirmed no lifejackets were found inside the Job Boat.

A Saturday Hike

A second call out for the swift water rescue team was made on Saturday when a woman, identified as 27-year-old Larissa McCoy-Green, slipped and fell into the river near the Green River Gorge.  Her friend jumped into the river in an attempt to rescue her.

Abbott confirmed McCoy-Green’s body was found and recovered from the river at approximately 12:30 pm.

The woman who jumped in to help her friend was able to get out of the river, but could not reach her friend.  She was treated on scene by medics.

Ghost Town Park

The third water rescue happened yesterday morning, just before noon.  A 24-year-old male slipped and fell into the river near Ghost Town Park and was swept away.  Rescue crews searched for the man and located his body in the river a short time later.

The identity of the man has not yet been released.

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Swift Water Rescue Team members prepare to enter the Green River to search for a missing boater | courtesy VRFA

Cold Water

According to VRFA Swift Water Rescue Technicians, the Green and White rivers run around 50 degrees, even in summer months.

According to the National Center for Cold Water Safety, “When [people] hear or think about 50F (10C) water, it doesn’t sound particularly cold – or dangerous – because they’re mentally comparing it to 50F (10C) air. It’s a big mistake that gets a lot of people killed each year.”

Waters that are 60-50°F can cause

  • Total loss of breathing control.
  • Maximum intensity cold shock.
  • Cause you to be unable to control gasping
  • Hyperventilation

“Most people who are unaccustomed to cold water will experience a maximum cold shock response somewhere between 50-60F (10-15C). For some individuals, this happens at 57F (14C), for others, the peak occurs at 52F (11C), and so on,” explains the National Center for Cold Water Safety website. “This means that an unprotected immersion in this temperature range will cause most people to completely lose control of their breathing – they will be gasping and hyperventilating as hard and fast as they can.”

The National Center for Cold Water Safety warns that “you should treat any water temperature below 70F with caution.”

Water Safety

Practicing proper water safety is essential if you are going to be near or on the water.

Know the water before you go swimming, boating or rafting.  Be sure to check the currents and temperature of the water before you go.

“Our technicians drill and train in our rivers several times a year and will tell you that each day offers different conditions and many hazards both seen and unseen,” said Kimberly Terhune of VRFA.

Know your limits! Don’t go out onto bodies of water that are more than you can handle.

Always wear proper water safety equipment, such as a life jacket.  Even Michael Phelps should wear a life jacket when on the Green River.

If you’re out hiking, ensure you have a firm footing when near water. Watch for loose or slippery rocks or surfaces.

It’s also important to remember that even if you go out with every piece of information you should, water conditions can change at any point.

“Our technicians drill and train in our rivers several times a year and will tell you that each day offers different conditions and many hazards both seen and unseen,” said Kimberly Terhune of VRFA.

Check out these resources for more information on water safety:

VRFA Injury Prevention

National Center for Cold Water Safety

Washington Department of Health 

Correction: This article originally listed the May 14th incident as happening in the Green River. It was the White River.

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