Christmas Ships boat pulls person ‘barely alive’ from river

Multnomah County

It's unclear how the person ended up in the river

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — A person was pulled out of the Willamette River Tuesday evening by a crew aboard a boat in the Christmas Ships Parade.

The person was found in the river at about 7:30 p.m. near the Steel Bridge, according to Portland Fire and Rescue.

Authorities weren’t sure how the adult person ended up in the river but said a boat from the Christmas Ships Parade pulled them to safety.

Rob Steffeck was the lookout on a Christmas Ship for logs and debris when he saw a person’s face barely above the surface and heard a very weak sounding “help,” December 11, 2019 (KOIN)

Rob Steffeck, the president of the Willamette Fleet, said his boat crew was responsible for the rescue. He said his vessel was in the lead to watch out for logs or debris that could impact the ships. He saw what he thought was a log but then saw the face of a person just barely visible above the surface. The person weakly cried out for help before sinking beneath the surface.

“It was a very weak-sounding ‘help’ because the person was hypothermic, I’m sure, because the water temperature is 42 degrees,” Steffeck said.

It took the crew about 30 seconds to “fish” the person out of the water. They immediately started trying to warm the person up. Steffeck said the person was “barely alive” but conscious.

Steffeck said first responders arrived about 5 minutes later and took the person away for treatment.

“It’s just insane … I mean, the guy was already underwater completely, so he wasn’t coming up, he wasn’t swimming, he wasn’t thrashing, he was done,” said Steffeck. “Another 10, 20 seconds — it would’ve been all over.”

Chris O’Neil witnessed part of the rescue and said the person “had an angel looking over him.”

“[It was a] Christmas miracle kinda thing, you know,” O’Neil said. “I mean, it’s that season and we’re trying to bring joy to the people in Portland and that kinda goes right along with it.”

No further details have been released.

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