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Father and son rescued from Bellingham Bay — ‘It was definitely a lucky ending’

Watch Coast Guard rescue father, son from Bellingham Bay

A Coast Guard aircrew rescued a father and son who went missing in separate small craft in rain, wind and two - three-foot seas off Bellingham Bay on Thursday night, Jan. 3, 2019.
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A Coast Guard aircrew rescued a father and son who went missing in separate small craft in rain, wind and two - three-foot seas off Bellingham Bay on Thursday night, Jan. 3, 2019.

A U.S. Coast Guard helicopter aircrew rescued a father and son who went missing in separate small craft in 2- to 3-foot seas and 23 mph winds Thursday night on Bellingham Bay.

A gale warning and a small craft advisory were in effect at the time of the rescue, and, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, wind gusts varied between 29-53 mph at the airport from the time the father and son were reported missing until they were rescued.

“It was definitely a lucky ending to this one,” Bellingham Fire Department assistant chief Bill Hewett told The Bellingham Herald in an interview Friday. “It definitely could have turned out differently. With the cold water in the bay any time of the year, but especially now, it doesn’t take much exposure to dramatically decrease the survival rate in a hurry.”

According to a Coast Guard 13th District release on the rescue, the Puget Sound Sector received a report at 8:15 p.m. that a 15-year-old boy in a 12-foot gray dinghy and his 50-year-old father in a 10-foot orange kayak had been missing for approximately an hour.

The reporting source said that both had been aboard a 52-foot pleasure boat anchored approximately 100 yards west of Boulevard Park, according to the release, and that the son departed in the dinghy with the intention of going east to the park.

The father reportedly saw the dinghy being pushed west into the bay by the wind and waves and determined his son could not make it to shore after he lost an oar. The father set off in the kayak to try to get him.

The Coast Guard issued an urgent marine information broadcast, according to the release, while a 45-foot Response Boat-Medium crew from the Bellingham station and a MH-65 Dolphin helicopter from Port Angeles were dispatched. The Coast Guard Cutter Blue Shark was diverted to assist with the search.

The Bellingham Fire and Police departments also assisted with the search efforts along the shore, the release said, and the fire department’s Salish Star assisted with the search on the bay.

The aircrew located the father and son in the dinghy about 3.5 miles north of the anchored boat in the north end of Bellingham Bay in shallow-water mud flats near the cement factory and hoisted them aboard the helicopter, according to the release, before transporting them to EMS personnel waiting at Bellingham International Airport.

The pair were missing for more than two and a half hours, according to the release, and though cold and wet, were otherwise responsive and alert.

“Our medics evaluated the patients and determined they did not need to be transported to the hospital,” Hewett said.

Hewett said from what he understood, the son attempted to row to shore during a lull in the winds, but the situation turned out to be not as safe as expected.

David Rasbach joined The Bellingham Herald in 2005 and now covers breaking news. He has been an editor and writer in several western states since 1994.
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