Robert "Garry" McCollum was prepared to die Sunday morning.
"I said, 'Father, I'm coming home. I can't do this. I'm going to die right here, " he said.
The 64-year-old school bus driver from Kennewick had gone to sleep on the deck of his aluminum pontoon boat with his grandson and another boy after a perfect day of fishing.
They woke up in the chilly Snake River, in the pitch dark, being sucked under by the force of a river barge.
Their boat had drifted into the shipping channel while they slept and was mowed over in the darkness.
The trio had set out Sept. 20 to bring home some steelhead and bass from the Snake. It also was a chance for McCollum to spend time with his grandson, Micah, 11, and foreign exchange student Ahmed Limame.
Limame, 16, from Tunisia in northern Africa, is staying with the McCollum family while he attends Southridge High School for a year.
McCollum and the boys reeled in a few fish during the day and into the evening, including one bass caught by Micah. The crew packed a dinner and planned to sleep under the stars on the boat.
McCollum decided to stop for the night at one of his trusty spots along the Walla Walla side of the river, a place locals call "Medicare Beach."
He dropped anchor about 20 feet from shore, about a half-mile east of Ice Harbor Dam. About 11 p.m., the boys crawled into their sleeping bags on an air mattress. McCollum lay down on a couch.
But while they slept, the 21-foot pontoon boat began to drift. The anchor didn't fully catch on the river bottom and their boat ended up almost a mile downstream in the middle of the river.
Sometime after 4 a.m., a tugboat pushing four Tidewater barges -- each about 268 feet long -- headed right for them.
The barges T-boned the pontoon boat, colliding inches from where the boys slept and throwing all three overboard.
"I was asleep and I heard a huge slam," Micah said. "The next thing I knew I was under water. All I could see was the bottom (of the barge)."
The barges slid over the side of the boat, crushing everything in its path. McCollum and the boys said they had no idea what hit them.
Ahmed said he was stuck under the barge for what seemed like an eternity.
"I thought I was going to die. I found a gap between the barges," he said. "Without that gap, I wouldn't have made it."
McCollum remembers making his peace with God and preparing for the worst as the barge ran over him.
When they came to the surface, they saw the tugboat and barges and realized what happened.
McCollum and the boys were stranded in the river in the dark. It was so dark they did not realize they were closer to the Franklin County side.
Instead, they could see the flashlight of some fishermen on the Walla Walla County side. Disoriented, the boys began the three-quarters of a mile swim to that shore.
"I just told them to go towards the lights, go towards the lights," McCollum said.
McCollum, who wears braces on his legs and has trouble swimming, floated on his back and fell far behind the boys. None wore a life vest.
Ahmed made it to shore first and was met by a couple who thought they'd heard the crash and had some blankets to warm him, he said.
Micah said being active in sports gave him the endurance to make it to shore soon after Ahmed.
"My legs, I couldn't feel them. (The couple) had to carry Micah," said Ahmed, who has scrapes across his face from the boat collision.
The Walla Walla County Sheriff's Office got a call at 5:15 a.m. about the accident. Deputies Richard Schram and Jim Greco responded in a patrol boat. They found McCollum about 100 to 150 feet from shore and pulled him out of the river.
McCollum reunited with the boys, and authorities took them to Trios Health in Kennewick to be checked out. They suffered a few bumps and bruises, but they weren't seriously hurt.
The Tidewater barge crew told deputies they didn't know they'd hit a boat until they heard some radio chatter and they returned to the collision scene, the sheriff's office said.
Deputies determined the pontoon boat did not have its lights on as it drifted in the river. The sheriff's office forwarded a copy of its report to the Coast Guard.
The crash destroyed the boat. It later was towed to shore.
Some gear was salvaged, including an ice chest found floating in the river -- with Micah's almost 5-pound bass inside.
The remnants of their overnight fishing trip sit in a Pasco tow yard. The boat is unrecognizable. Broken fishing poles are tangled in the debris. A waterlogged pillow, deflated air mattress and sleeping bags are among the wreckage.
In an interview with the Herald in the living room of the McCollum home, the family reflected on the crash and how lucky they are to have escaped with their lives.
They thanked the sheriff's office and the couple who helped the boys from the river.
McCollum has been overnight fishing more than 50 times, he said. He blames himself for not making sure the anchor was secure. He said he was impressed with the boys' will to survive.
Still, he's already thinking about his next trip on the river.
Ahmed said he may enjoy the rest of his time in America on land.
"(The McCollums) have a jacuzzi right here, so that's more comfortable," he said.
-- Tyler Richardson: 509-582-1556; email@example.com; Twitter: @Ty_richardson