WAPATO — Yakima law enforcement and fire personnel teamed up Sunday evening to rescue a man who was trapped in a vehicle in the Yakima River just off Donald Wapato Road.
The unidentified man was taken to an area hospital after he was pulled out, but the extent of his injuries was not known.
The witness who called 911 said he was driving just past the Yakima River bridge about 6 p.m. when he saw the white vehicle partially submerged in the river with its headlights still on.
Art Gonzalez said one man had gotten out of the vehicle and walked away, on shore, but then he noticed that there was another person inside the vehicle. It was about 60 feet from shore.
“He was in the passenger side, knocked out from what I saw, then all of a sudden he started moving,” said Gonzalez, who was standing on the bank watching the scene with his girlfriend.
The Yakima County Sheriff’s Office Swiftwater Rescue team took point on the rescue operation. The white vehicle was mostly submerged, but was stable and upright after rolling at least once on its descent into the water. The man had managed to pull himself to a seated position in the car’s driver side front window.
Crew members initially tried to get a throw bag, which contains rope, to him, but were unsuccessful, said Capt. Bryan Bauer with the Union Gap Fire Department, the lead organization from fire personnel.
They also prepared a raft, but didn’t end up using it. Crew members crawled out closer to the man on a long log that was protruding into the river, but still could not reach him.
About 6:45 p.m., the Swiftwater Rescue team’s rescue boat arrived on the scene, circled back up to the man and pulled him into the boat. He was brought to shore and immediately wrapped up in blankets and hot packs, loaded onto a stretcher and taken away in an ambulance.
The high water and fast current from rapid snowmelt posed risks to the victim and rescue personnel; Bauer said there was also a risk for the man being swept under the vehicle if he tried to get out. The lengthy exposure to the cold water also put the man at risk for hypothermia.
Sgt. Chad Peterschick with the sheriff’s office said that while no water rescue event is ever “standard,” the situation went well.
“The victim was rescued and nobody else was hurt,” he said, standing on the bank as emergency personnel continued to swarm in the background. “There’s a very strong current. We want to be able to get to the victim as quickly and safely as possible, but we don’t want to create any extra emergencies by losing one of our people at the same time.”
The sheriff’s office is still investigating how the vehicle ended up in the river in the first place; at this point, they have no idea, Peterschick said.
It’s also unclear why the other passenger ran off, though Peterschick said there is no criminal investigation at this point.
“We don’t know who it is or why he left; he could’ve gone to get help” and not been aware that law enforcement representatives were already en route, he said.
All in all, while it may have seemed like an eternity to the victim, “This was called in and resolved almost exactly in one hour,” Peterschick said. “There was a lot of work going on.”
Also on scene were Yakima County Fire District 5 fire rescue, Washington State Patrol, city of Yakima fire personnel and Wapato police.
• Molly Rosbach can be reached at 509-577-7728 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
• The spelling of Chad Peterschick’s name has been corrected in this article.