- Associated Press - Saturday, June 21, 2014

ILWACO, Wash. (AP) - A retired Portland police sergeant out fishing with his wife and two friends helped rescue five people from 10-foot seas at the mouth of the Columbia River on Friday after a 25-foot guided fishing boat capsized. The Coast Guard recovered the body of a sixth person.

Lonn Sweeney said he started following the other boat back across the river bar, where the river and Pacific Ocean currents collide, after the Coast Guard warned Friday morning that sea conditions were growing dangerous.

“It’s just a thing fishermen do, they stick together,” he said.

With Sweeney on his 24-foot boat were his wife, for whom the Teresa D is named, Portland Officer Randy Vanderhoof and Vanderhoof’s girlfriend. A short time later, they crested a wave to see the other boat had capsized. Sweeney’s crew could see people in the water.

“Our training just kicked in,” Sweeney recalled in a phone interview. “I stood at the helm and Randy started telling me which way to go. We got to the individuals one by one - threw them life vests and life rings. My wife helped and so did Randy’s girlfriend.

“We got five but we couldn’t get the last one,” he said, his voice catching. “We couldn’t find him.”

The Teresa D also quickly alerted the Coast Guard, which dispatched two boats from Station Cape Disappointment, along with a cutter and a helicopter from nearby Astoria, Oregon.

A Coast Guard crew found the sixth person tangled in fishing gear, cut him free and tried to resuscitate him, but he was declared dead. He was not immediately identified.

Sweeney took the five survivors to the port of Ilwaco, Washington. Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class David Mosley said they did not need medical attention.

“This tragic event could have been much worse without the quick efforts of the good Samaritans,” Capt. Bruce Jones, Coast Guard commanding officer of the Columbia River Sector, said in a statement. “Their quick thinking and selfless efforts saved five people today.”

All those aboard the capsized boat wore life jackets, Mosley said.

Bar conditions were pretty calm early Friday morning but the seas were growing larger by about 8:30 a.m., when the Coast Guard radioed that it would be restricting bar crossings for smaller boats due to high seas by about 10 a.m., Mosley said.

That’s when the two boats decided to head back in.

“Today we were just in the right spot to help some people,” Sweeney said.

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