Luckiest day of his life
The glistening ice on the Columbia River near Bateman Island looked serene in the Tuesday afternoon sunshine.
Rhi Baker and Rose Daniel Hardt were rock hunting with two friends and decided to get closer and then live-stream it to YouTube.
“Hey guys, welcome to the day that we die,” joked Hardt, 18, as he slid on the cracked ice, edging farther out with each step.
After testing it with rocks and sticks, they ventured onto the softened ice near the popular wildlife area off Columbia Drive.
Baker, 15, kept video streaming Hardt playing around on the broken ice as splashes of water seep over the ice.
For five minutes, the two teens and their friends, Jasper Snow, 19, and Chancey Hiatt, 20, horsed around, before noticing bubbles forming under the ice a little farther out.
Hiatt, a former Boy Scout, knew the dangers and shouted a warning.
But Hardt kept messing around — sliding out a bit farther until it was too late.
“One moment there was ground, and the next there wasn’t. I was walking out there and could tell it was getting more slushy,” he told the Herald on Wednesday.
“And it’s not an excuse, but honest to goodness, the only thing that my brain was thinking about was I need to walk out a certain amount of steps, because I have OCD with numbers and I was 11 steps out and I needed to get an even number. The 12th is what broke the ice,” Hardt said.
Escaping the river
He remembers panicking as he tried to get above the water and then out of the icy hole.
Each time he grabbed at the thin ice, it broke away in his hands. His forearms are still scratched where he was cut trying to pull himself out.
Hiatt had told them as they walked out what to do if it started to break. Drop to your stomach and try to distribute your weight as wide as possible.
The plunge into cold, dark water
But when Hardt broke through, all he could think of was trying to breathe. The icy water had knocked the breath from his lungs.
“The moment the ice broke and I was plunged into that freezing cold dark water, rational thought was out the window,” he said. “(I was) desperately reaching for hands, reaching for purchase.”
The bottom of the river was outside of reach of his feet, and he’s a mediocre swimmer at best, he said.
Snow rushed to help, but also crashed through the ice.
Baker screamed and dropped the phone, continuing to live stream as it slid across the ice and slipped under water.
It was Hiatt’s training that saved them.
He quickly dropped down and began crawling toward where Hardt went under.
Baker did the same, inching toward Snow in the water.
Just then, Hiatt also fell through the ice but still managed to pull Hardt to safety. And Baker helped get Snow out.
All the while, the underwater cellphone kept filming.
A minute later — after all were safely out of the water — Baker used another phone to let anyone watching on YouTube that everyone was OK.
They quickly peeled off their wet clothes and got in the car.
Hardt said it wasn’t until he got home that he realized how close he came to drowning.
Even a hot shower didn’t ease the shivering. And by Wednesday he was still close to tears as he recounted the close call.
Sharing a warning
They asked their mother, Jennifer Goulet, a former candidate for state legislature, to share their story and warning on social media.
Goulet, wiping away tears Wednesday, said she should have done a better job teaching her children to respect the dangers that come with ice, especially in the warming weather.
While Baker said they knew what could happen, but didn’t really take the danger seriously.
“That’s why parents get really upset when their kids go and do something stupid,” Baker said. “It’s painful to go back and look back at it simply because it’s like, ‘What are you doing!’”
Columbia Basin Dive Rescue officials say the river ice now is extremely dangerous. It’s thinning and the water underneath is deadly cold, said spokesman Scott Ruppelius.
“It’s not very smart to be walking on the ice right now,” he said.
Hardt would agree.
He spent much of the night thinking about what could have happened if they weren’t able to save him.
“The ice could have closed in over my head. I could have been by myself. Anything could have gone wrong,” he said. “You can’t overestimate your own mortality or it’s going to kill you.”