Three people are recovering from hypothermia and several others are safe after a rescue operation at Tillamook Bay along the North Oregon Coast.
Tillamook County Sheriff's Office (TCSO) and Tillamook Fire Department responded to a report of two boats stranded on the mud at 10:05 p.m. Saturday, May 29, in Tillamook Bay.
It was reported that there were 13 people involved and that some people were in the water attempting to swim back to shore.
Tillamook County Sheriff's Marine Deputy Dennis Greiner launched a boat with deputies Ethan Ault and Yonty Urrutia onboard.
“We were able to get four of the younger and coldest victims loaded onboard and brought them to awaiting fire and medical personnel at Memaloose Boat Ramp,” Greiner said.
Meanwhile, deputies Kelly Awe and Billy Cloud launched a drift boat, from the banks of Bay Ocean Road.
“Luckily it was a slack tide with no wind, so rowing the drift boat was relatively easy,” Awe said.
The deputies used the rescue boats to bring four people back across to shore, according to a release from the Tillamook County Sheriff's Office. The remaining five people on the two boats had successfully left the crafts and swam ashore prior to the first responders arrival.
Due to the number of potential victims needing medical care, this incident was dispatched as a Level 3 Mass Casualty Incident (MCI).
“We deployed our MCI trailer, established Incident Command and triaged patients, handed out blankets and hot packs and initially put patients in fire trucks to warm them up,” Tillamook Fire Marshal Reuben Descloux said.
In a Level 3 MCI in Tillamook, fire departments from Garibaldi, Bay City and Netarts-Oceanside send personnel to assist at the emergency and also covering the fire district. Three victims were brought to Adventist Health Tillamook Hospital for treatment for hypothermia.
Sunday, morning May 30, deputies attempted to return boat owners to their vessels in order to remove them from the bay, but the water was still too shallow. The effort to remove the boats was rescheduled for that afternoon.
TCSO cautions boaters that the tidal exchange in Tillamook County bays and estuaries can be dramatic and boats regularly get stranded on mud and sand bars. It is never a good idea to try and swim back to shore as it takes only minutes for hypothermia to set in making swimming difficult or impossible.
TCSO urges those boating in coastal waterways, especially during tidal events, to gtake precautions.
“Know where you are going, what the tides are, and what the weather conditions are forecasted to be,” Awe said. “Always have enough personal floatation devices (PFD's) for everyone onboard, carry a suitable anchor, a fully charged cell phone, extra warm clothing and food and water onboard in case you have to sit and wait for the tide to come in.”
Awe said the those stranded should not attempt to swim back to shore. Instead they should call 911 and wait for rescuers to respond to assess the situation, and plan a proper response. Additionally, boating at night also presents many more dangers and challenges and should be avoided.