Man dies in rafting accident near Oso

OSO — A man died while rafting on the North Fork Stillaguamish River on Sunday afternoon, but a woman with him was able to swim ashore, authorities said.

The rafting accident unfolded near the 22400 block of Highway 530, downstream from confluence of Deer Creek and the North Fork Stilly.

Witnesses started calling 911 around 2:30 p.m. to report seeing the pair in the water.

Trouble had begun when the two rafts they were riding in became entangled on the logs, Oso Fire Chief Willy Harper said. The woman made it out of the river on her own, without serious injury.

A rescue hovercraft traveled downstream to recover the man.

“He was lifeless when they pulled him out,” Harper said.

On shore, crews tried to revive him, without success, he said.

The Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office was investigating the cause of the accident.

The man and woman’s ages and hometowns were not released Sunday, sheriff’s Lt. Kathi Lang said.

Responding to the rescue were the Stillaguamish Swift Water Rescue Team, the sheriff’s Marine Services Unit and Snohomish County Search and Rescue.

Last week, as the summer-like weekend forecast became apparent, state and local agencies urged boaters and swimmers to be careful.

Despite the warm air, water in rivers and lakes is cold from snow melt, the state Health Department warned. Most river and creek water temperatures range from the upper 30s to the mid 40s.

Those conditions are in effect on the Stilly.

“The river is cold and fast right now,” Harper said.

Treacherous, fast-moving waters can overwhelm experienced rafters.

The late Everett City Councilman Drew Nielsen was an expert-level rafter known for being safety conscious. The 61-year-old died last May after becoming trapped underwater on the Green River in south King County.

Since 2008, about a dozen people have died in boating accidents in Snohomish and Island counties, state data show. Common factors include not wearing life jackets, using alcohol or drugs, and falling overboard.

There was no immediate word that any of those factors contributed to Sunday’s accident.

The county had one boating-related drowning in March on Silver Lake. In that case, police believe Richard J. Grimes, 49, of Everett, was fishing when he ended up in the water and drowned.

Authorities caution boaters to check weather and water conditions before heading out. They should let people know where they’re going and when they plan to check in. That information can aid rescue crews in an emergency and help find people faster.

All boaters should wear life jackets that fit well and meet modern U.S. Coast Guard standards.

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465, nhaglund@heraldnet.com.

Water safety tips

• Never use inner tubes and rafts designed for swimming pools on open water.

• Know your limits; do not attempt a section of river beyond your skill level.

• Pay attention to weather and water conditions. Wear wool clothing or a wet suit and dress for the water temperature. If the water temperature and air temperature combined total 100 degrees or less, wear protective clothing.

• Enter cold water slowly.

• Avoid swimming near boat ramps or in boating areas.

• Avoid downed trees, snags and confluences.

• If your vessel capsizes, float on your back, feet together and pointed downstream. If you go over a ledge or drop, tuck into a ball.

• If you’re caught in a fast-flowing river or rapids, try to float feet first in a half-sitting position. Release your craft only if it improves your safety. Stay upstream, away from the boat.

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