St. Helens workers help rescue teens gone overboard
Two utility workers with the city of St. Helens are being recognized for rescuing three teenage boys from the Clatskanie River who had capsized their boat while duck hunting in early December.
Ethan Stirling and Curt LeMont, who both work for the city, set out to go duck hunting at Beaver Boat Ramp in Clatskanie on Saturday morning, Dec. 8. It was just before 5 a.m. and the two were getting their boat and gear ready to go when they saw a trio of teens set out just ahead of them.
Minutes later, in the early morning darkness while preparing to depart, they heard yelling, but didn't think much of it at first. They got their gear prepped and loaded into their boat and set out on the river.
When they got about 15 yards away from the boat ramp and deeper into the water, however, Stirling and LeMont could make out the word "help."
"A lot goes through your head because we knew it was — what? Thirty-five degrees out? And it's cold. Hypothermia. It's a huge thing," LeMont said. "We knew we had to get down right away and help anyway we could."
With their boat's lighting system on, the men raced toward the shouts. About 200 yards down the river, they saw a capsized boat with hunting gear and other supplies bobbing in the water.
Over toward the riverbank, Stirling saw who was calling for help — three teenage boys stranded in the water. Stirling and LeMont recall noticing the boys were wearing float coats and waders, but they were still in water up to their necks.
The teens managed to keep their cell phones above water and had contacted their parents by the time Stirling and LeMont reached them, but they were unable to get out of the water.
"When waders fill up with water, you can't do nothing. It's impossible to swim," Stirling explained.
The men quickly tried to help get the teen who had taken on the most water into the boat first, while another teen used the bow and the third used a ladder equipped on the back of the boat to get out of the river.
When they got back to the boat ramp, the teens quickly stripped off their waders and climbed into the truck they used to get there to warm up. Stirling and LeMont made sure the teens were physically OK. While the boys warmed up, the men went back to the capsized boat and gathered up the teens' belongings and helped tow the boat back to the boat ramp, carefully pulling it while fighting the river's current.
"They're tough kids. As an avid hunter — I had a duck boat before I had a vehicle to drive as a kid, so I've grown up hunting the river and it's very dangerous. The water temperature at that time was very cold, but I was able to make a judgmental decision that they were OK. They weren't having any signs of hypothermia," Stirling said.
The entire recovery took about an hour, Stirling and LeMont estimated, which is not long for recovering people and belongings following a boat capsize.
They estimated the teens had been in the water for about 15 to 20 minutes, based on when they left the boat ramp and when Stirling and LeMont heard them call out. For Stirling, that 15-minute time gap was an important part of the story, too. He and his hunting partner had intended to set out on their own duck hunt much earlier in the morning, but Stirling had overslept.
"This is the whole part of the story that gets me every time is that morning we were going to get up and leave, Curt met me at my house, and I slept through my alarm that morning. So Curt wakes me up, calling me, or whatever, and I'm like, 'Oh crap, I'm 15 minutes late. Here we go,'" Stirling explained. "[But] if I had not slept through my alarm, I think, who knows what would've happened because it would've been a long time before someone else came through."
Stirling and LeMont said they don't view themselves as heroes. Their supervisor, Neal Sheppeard, publicly praised the pair for their good work during a St. Helens City Council meeting last week, noting that they reserved recognition for their efforts.
"We're not heroes. We're just doing the right thing. We're just doing what any-
one else would do," Stirling said.
"You know, maritime law is that you should offer aid, and we felt good being able to do that," LeMont added.