Canoe capsizes on Yakima River; family all safe

By Paula Horton, Tri-City HeraldApril 25, 2012 

A family canoe outing on the Yakima River could have quickly turned into a tragedy after the canoe capsized over a small rapid and sent a 4-year-old boy and three adults into the water.

The boy was wearing a life jacket, but his parents and uncle were not. They all managed to get themselves out of the water, but Columbia Basin Dive Rescue did have to rescue one man from a small island in the river.

It was the second water rescue in as many days for emergency responders and Columbia Basin Dive Rescue.

The canoe flipped on some rapids about 4:15 p.m. near Jones Road in West Richland.

The boy's uncle, Corey Carpenter, apparently was trying to swim after an oar once the canoe flipped and couldn't get to shore.

"I was in the house making supper and I just saw an orange hat floating down the river," said Carol Bachman, who lives in the 1700 block of Riverside Drive in West Richland.

When she took a closer look, she saw the hat was on Carpenter's head and he was struggling in the water. Bachman ran out of the house and yelled at him to go to the island where the water was more shallow.

Carpenter waited on the island until dive rescuers were able to reach him and take him back to shore.

"Good thing I went through Boy Scouts and learned about survival," Carpenter said.

Carpenter's sister made it the shore in back of Bachman's house and was struggling to keep hold of the canoe that was full of water. Bachman said her husband, Mike Kozlowski, and 15-year-old son, Michael, were able to help bring the canoe onto the shore and pour the water out.

Carpenter's brother-in-law kept hold of his son and got the two onto shore a little upstream.

"The little boy was shaking and cold," Bachman said as she watched emergency crews from Richland fire and Benton Fire District 4 check the family. "He wouldn't have made it if he didn't have a life jacket on. This tragedy could have been a lot worse."

The boy's parents didn't want to give their names, but the mother said the experience was a little scary for her son, but everyone fortunately was OK.

Ryan Hintz, a duty officer with Columbia Basin Dive Rescue, said people need to be aware that the water in the rivers still is very cold even though it's starting to get warm outside.

"It's only in the high 40s. It does not take a very long exposure in the water to have reduced dexterity and for early stages of hypothermia to set in," he said. "We don't really see a large increase in water temperature until about June or July."

And even in the summer, the rivers still are colder than most people expect.

On Monday, two women on inner tubes had to be treated for hypothermia after being rescued from the Yakima River around 4:20 p.m.

They had spent the day floating down the Yakima River on inner tubes and planned to get out of the water at the Duportail boat launch, but they got washed past the launch and ended up down river, Hintz said.

They beached themselves in a marshy area near Bateman Island and dive rescue members picked them up and took them to Columbia Point Marina in Richland, where they were treated on shore for hypothermia.

Rescue calls "tend to come in waves any time there's a sudden change in temperature. I think folks tend to be overzealous," Hintz said. "The Yakima River, in particular right now, is at a high flow. Anyone who intends to traverse that water should be prepared for the conditions."

Warm temperatures at the start of the week are melting the snowpack in the mountains, causing the river to rise.

The Yakima River is expected to crest Friday near Benton City at 12.67 feet, just under the flood stage of 13 feet. However, that is above what the National Weather Service considers the "action" stage of 11 feet.

It rose from 7 feet near Benton City Saturday afternoon to 9.1 feet Tuesday evening. It is expected to continue to rise steadily until Friday and then start dropping Saturday.

Angela Cox, a kayaker who also lives on the Yakima River in West Richland, said keeping an eye on the river and knowing how it moves is key to staying safe.

"It's a fun river. You can play on it if you take precautions," she said. "There are little eddies and if you don't pay attention, it can flip you around so fast. In less than a bat's eye, you're in."

Cox and emergency officials stress that wearing a life jacket is the No. 1 way to stay safe on the water.

"I know the river. I live on it," Cox said. "But I wear a (personal flotation device) all the time."

State law requires children wear a life vest when their on the water, and Hintz said adults are "highly recommended" to do the same.

"Not only to set an example to the children, but also because when you unintentionally find yourself in the water, it's hard to assist your children when you're struggling without a life vest," he said.

Hintz also said anyone planning to go on the water should have a float plan -- specifying where they're going in and when and where they're going to come out -- and make sure to tell someone what the plan is so they can be prepared to call for help if something happened.

-- Paula Horton: 582-1556; phorton@tricityherald.com

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