Fishermen save men whose boat sank

April 26, 2006 12:00 am

By CHRIS COLLINS

Of the Baker City Herald

Three Washington fishermen are credited with saving the lives of three Idaho men whose jet boat sank in 70 feet of water in Oxbow Reservoir Tuesday afternoon.

The 17-foot jet boat went under about 4 p.m MDT after the men dropped the anchor from the back of the boat in the reservoir's swift, high water.

"Snake River is flowing at much higher than normal flows and when the anchor caught hold, the boat was pulled under," said Lt. Jerry Weir of Oxbow, Marine Patrol supervisor for the Adams County Sheriff's Office. "None of the men was wearing personal flotation devices, but were able to grab one life vest and a floating cooler."

The Washington men, who were fishing about 400 feet away near Old Carter's Landing, acted quickly.

"It took a lot of guts on their part," Weir said.

The rescuers took their 12-foot boat into the reservoir's swift current and dragged the overboard fishermen to safety in the 50-degree water.

"They held onto them from the side of the boat and motored them to shore to get them out," Weir said. "They wouldn't have lasted long out there if the other fellows hadn't seen them."

The fishermen pulled from the water were Thomas Felkel, 56, of Grangeville, Idaho; Thomas Parker, 65, and Lawrence Wetzel, 69, both of Boise. They had been fishing for about two hours before their boat sank, Weir said. The group was camped at Idaho Power Co.'s McCormick Park. They suffered no injuries in the mishap.

They were rescued by Bounlap Insixiengmay, 45, and Scott Senebouttarath, 56, both of Tacoma, Wash.; and Khaikham Outhibchamporn, age unavailable, of Kennewick, Wash.

Weir cautioned boaters not to attempt to anchor in the deceptively swift waters of Oxbow Reservoir this spring. The Idaho men were experienced boaters, but they weren't prepared for the high water level.

"They were surprised by the water and the current caught them off guard," he said.

There will be no attempt to recover the boat until the water levels drop, he added.

The water level is at 60,000 to 80,000 cfs, compared to the summertime level of about 10,000 cfs.

"The high water flows filled up the back of the boat in less than a minute," Weir said of Tuesday's incident.

"It's deceptive. It's not the placid water it is in the summertime," he said.

Weir cautioned boaters against attempting to anchor in the current. Boats may be anchored closer to shore, but anchors should not be tied hard and fast, in case they need to be released. And he recommends throwing the anchor off the front of the boat, not from the back as the Idaho men did.

And while neither Oregon nor Idaho law requires boaters to wear their personal flotation devices while on the water, Weir encourages the practice.