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Busy Tourist Weekend Brought Danger to Oregon Coast


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Secrets of the Season

Busy Tourist Weekend Brought Danger, Deaths to Oregon Coast

South of Cannon Beach on Saturday: lovely, calm waves bely the danger

(Gleneden Beach, Oregon) – Sunny conditions and somewhat deceptively calm seas brought a flood of visitors to the Oregon coast over the weekend, but with that came a run of rescues and two fatalities. One rescue was in Cannon Beach and two were near Depoe Bay.

It all caused beach experts to issue more warnings about playing on the beaches or in the ocean.

An Oakridge, Oregon boy died at a Lincoln City hospital on Saturday after he drowned in the waters of Gleneden Beach, between Lincoln City and Depoe Bay. Another 16-year-old boy who tried to rescue the boy was lost in the ocean and presumed dead.

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The U.S. Coast Guard and crews from the Depoe Bay Fire Department responded to an emergency call of two boys in trouble at Gleneden Beach. First, an 11-year-old boy was reported drowning in the ocean. Five people attempted to save him and were not successful.

Gleneden Beach

Eventually, a Depoe Bay fireman was able to pull the boy out of the water. He was in critical condition for a short time, but died later at Samaritan North Lincoln Hospital.

One of the would-be rescuers was a 16-year-old who disappeared in the sea. Crews suspended the search for his body just before 5 p.m. on Saturday.

The two boys did not know each other. Officials from Oregon State Police say family members of the 16-year-old reported him missing to authorities on the beach, believing he went into the surf to look for the first boy.

The 11-year-old is identified River Jenison of Westfir, which is located near Oakridge. The missing 16-year-old has been identified as Ross Barfuss.

As this rescue was taking place, another emergency call came in from Otter Rock regarding a surfer in trouble there – about ten miles south of Depoe Bay.

When crews arrived, they found family members of the surfer were able to rescue him. He was taken to the hospital in Newport and treated for hypothermia.

Gleneden Beach

In the Cannon Beach area, also on Saturday, a pair of kayakers required rescuing after their practice runs at kayaking went awry.

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Dave Pastor, a video reporter from Cannon Beach, filmed the pair being rescued by a Coast Guard helicopter at Arcadia Beach, a tourist hotspot a few miles south of town.

Portlanders David Dean and Laura Whittith were beginners who were trying to get more experience when Whittith capsized.

“They were trying to do their practicing, when she got caught in a rip current and dragged out to sea,” Pastor said. “He swam out to try and save her, and got stuck on the rocks.”

Otter Rock

Onlookers called 911 and the Coast Guard showed up to pull them out. The kayaks were lost.

Pastor said the two graciously talked to him as he filmed the story for local TV stations. They then drove away in their own car – not taken to the hospital as was reported by some officials.

Conditions on the ocean may have looked somewhat calm and blue under the sunny skies of the weekend, but they weren’t. Sneaker waves were rampant throughout the day, with the ocean receding then suddenly bursting in with a difference of 300 feet between the lowest point and the highest tide line in some places – all within the space of a few minutes.

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Guy DiTorrice, a beach expert and former fire department captain who has had made numerous beach rescues over the last decade or so, said part of the problem was the sheer numbers of people on the coast.

Arcadia Beach access, near Cannon Beach

“When I was playing on the beach early in the morning, the parking lot at that beach was empty,” DiTorrice said. “By one o’clock, the parking lot was full. It was sunny and nice. I think a lot of people were trying to avoid spring break too.”

Still, beach experts on the Oregon coast wouldn’t call conditions deceptively calm. They say it’s always a place to be extremely cautious.

“We didn’t have particularly big waves this weekend,” said Keith Chandler, manager of Seaside Aquarium. “Use common sense. The ocean feels deceptively nice right now, especially after it hasn’t been nice in a while. But the water is cold, about 45 degrees. It’s 20 degrees colder than it is in summer. You can lose heat fast and get hypothermia.”

Chandler said inexperience is often a key to such events as the run of rescues this weekend.

Rocky structures at Arcadia could've spelled problems for this weekend's kayakers

“I wouldn’t call things deceptively calm at all this weekend,” he said. “You’ve got to remember, we’re in a state where it takes only two inches of water to lift a giant log. I think people look at that ocean and think they’re a little safer than they are. They need to remember the forces of nature are more powerful than we are.

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“The tides and currents may look normal on the surface, but they’re not. The direction that the waves are going is different from the currents underneath.”

DiTorrice said many of these rescue situations happen around rocky headland areas, which makes for more deceptively stable conditions on the surface as currents will edge people into places they didn’t expect.

Gleneden Beach

“In these cases, there’s always entry made on a sandy beach, but there’s a rocky area nearby,” he said. “No one intends to go the directions of the rocks. But the currents don’t go back and forth.”

Currents in general run northerly during the spring, DiTorrice said. But rip currents are an especially dangerous element lurking beneath the waves, which can’t be seen. If you get caught in a rip current, stay with it: it won’t last long. You can’t swim out of these extremely strong currents. But if you stay with the rip current, it will dissipate soon, and you’ll be able to swim out.

Chandler said the best offense for situations like this is not get into them in the first place.

To avoid getting in such dangerous predicaments, DiTorrice suggested sticking to the info provided by locals, especially for surfers. Surf shops gladly give out such recommendations for free.

Tides and currents at Otter Rock can be especially nasty

But what about those five rescuers in Gleneden Beach Saturday – and what if you’re in such a situation where you witness a drowning? Do you swim out to help and risk your own life, sometimes to a greater degree?

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“A couple of years ago, I had to deal with a rescuer who didn’t come back in the Newport area,” DiTorrice said. “Stay on the scene and dial 9-1-1. Stay there so you can give the operator the visual location so the helicopters and rescuers know exactly what to do.

“I was on the scene in Newport for that drowning. The person who went in to save someone else died, not the first person who got in trouble. We rescued him. Now there’s a dead hero.”

Chandler admitted this would be a hard thing to stand by and watch.

“I don’t really know what I’d do,” he said. “I can’t say I wouldn’t go out and help, but I know I will say I shouldn’t.”

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