Oak Harbor man drowns chasing drifting boat

By Sharon Salyer

Herald Writer

OAK HARBOR — A 57-year-old Oak Harbor-area man apparently drowned Sunday after swimming into the water to recover a boat that had drifted away as he and another man explored a beach.

An autopsy is expected to be performed today by the Island County Coroner’s Office. If the death is ruled a drowning, it will be the third time in the past week that boaters have drowned near Crescent Harbor.

On Sunday, two men were in a 16-foot boat and walked onto a beach near Maylor Point about lunch time, said Jan Smith, spokeswoman for the Island County Sheriff’s Office.

She said she wasn’t sure why they went to the beach, but they may have been clamming.

When one of the men discovered that their boat had drifted away, he jumped into the water to recover it. The boat was about 50 yards offshore.

The man then indicated to his friend on the beach that he was in trouble, and asked him to get help.

Because of the high bluff surrounding the beach, it took about 25 minutes for the man to reach a phone and call for help, Smith said.

"Chances are good that if they had a cell phone, it was probably on the boat," she said.

The Oak Harbor Fire Department was dispatched to Maylor Point near Crescent Harbor at 12:50 p.m. to assist a person in the water, said Fire Chief Mark Soptich.

About 25 people assisted with the search, including firefighters from Island County Fire District 2 and Whidbey Island Naval Air Station.

The fire department had requested Navy and U.S. Coast Guard helicopters to assist with the search, but the crews were turned back after rescuers found the man in the water at 1:19 p.m., Soptich said.

Rescue crews attempted to resuscitate the man but he was pronounced dead at the scene.

The man’s name was not available from the Island County Coroner’s Office on Sunday evening.

Although it was a sunny, warm day, the water was cold and the victim was not wearing a life jacket, Smith said.

"We can’t emphasize it enough, people should take care when they’re on or near the water," Smith said. "Safe operation of a boat takes more skill than driving a car."

Last weekend, a 12-foot fiberglass boat capsized in Crescent Harbor, killing George Helland of Sedro-Woolley and his 13-year-old son, Clifford Helland.

A third person in the boat was able to swim toward shore and was rescued.

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