PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — A man drifting down the Columbia River in a makeshift raft was rescued by tugboat crews just minutes before he would have been swept into the Bonneville Dam, the boat’s captain said.
The Skamania County Sheriff’s Office identified the man as 43-year-old Randell Betha, who was hitchhiking from Spokane, Washington, to Newport, Oregon. After Betha was tired from hitchhiking, he made a raft out of wood and rope and began traveling the Columbia River near Hood River Bridge.
Police told KOIN 6 News that Betha called 911 reporting he was stuck in the middle of the channel and could not make it to shore. Betha told 911 dispatch he did not have a life vest and did not know how to swim.
Skamania County Sheriff’s Office conducted a 5-hour search by boat when they were told by Foss Maritime Tug that they found Betha near the Columbia River Dam.
Captain Eric Braden of the tugboat P.J. Brix told KOIN 6 News his boat and another were towing windmill blades to Idaho when he spotted something in the river.
He said he raised a pair of binoculars to his face and realized it was a man floating just below the Bridge of the Gods. According to Braden, the strong current would have thrown the man into the dam within 10 minutes, potentially killing him.
The tugboat captain said the man told them he had been on the raft for 24 hours. After the crews pulled him on board the other tugboat, The Betsy L, deputies from the Skamania County Sheriff’s Office pulled up and took custody of the man, Braden said.
Authorities told the crews they were searching for the man since 2 a.m., Braden said.
After rescuing Betha, police discovered he had misdemeanor warrants from another agency and took him to Stevenson, Washington.