Family who leaped from burning boat survives ordeal in frigid Columbia River

MULTNOMAH COUNTY, OR (KPTV) — A family and their dogs were rescued after spending more than half an hour in the 40-degree water of the Columbia River.
Two adults and girls ages 8 and 9 jumped into the river when their boat caught fire Tuesday afternoon in the river’s Multnomah Channel, 10 miles northwest of Portland, the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office said. The children had life jackets; the adults did not.
The channel is about 200 yards across, and they were able to swim to its north shore, on Sauvie Island, but they could not climb the steep muddy embankment. The adults — a grandfather and his female friend — tried to hold the children above the chilly water as they yelled for help, sheriff’s Sgt. Stephen Dangler told TV station KPTV.
Deputies were searching both from the river and on land, and about 35 minutes after the fire was reported they heard the family’s cries.
The water temperature was a principal concern. At 40 degrees, Dangler said, “usually you have about 10 minutes of useful movement.”
When the four were located, the deputies on the river were able to pull the woman, the children and a puppy into their boat. The man and an elderly Labrador retriever were severely hypothermic and could not move on their own.
Dangler got in the water and waited with them while the rescue boat returned to shore to get more help.
“I was able to verbally communicate with him for the first five to eight minutes,” the deputy said of the man. At one point, he said, the dog laid its head down and both men thought it had died. The hypothermic man started exhorting the animal, “Don’t leave me now, don’t die on me!” Dangler said.
By the time the boat returned, the man could no longer speak. He and the dog were pulled onboard, and all four members of the family were taken to the Oregon Health & Science University hospital in Portland. The following day, they were able to return home.
Dangler said he had no information on the dog’s condition but that he was doubtful it survived.
The sheriff’s office said it’s not clear how the boat caught fire. After firefighters extinguished the flames, the boat sank.
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