Truck plunges into Columbia; 3 agencies rush to driver’s aid

They say the driver had a heart attack and lost consciousness, causing him to veer off Marine Drive. Learn how rescue teams from three agencies worked hand-in-hand to rescue the victim‚ still alive‚

After veering off NE Marine Drive, the pickup truck plunged to a depth of 17 feet under the cold Columbia River’s surface.

By David F. Ashton
A motorist on NE Marine Drive and a cyclist on the bike path tell 911 operators they just saw a black Ford Ranger 4×4 splash into the Columbia River, just west of the Glenn Jackson Bridge, on June 19.

Simultaneously, these witnesses tell emergency operators they see a man struggling to free himself from the vehicle through the rear window‚ but the truck sinks before the driver makes it out.

“Perfect” inter-agency cooperation
To members of three responding rescue agencies, it doesn’t matter why the truck veered off a smooth, straight section of road on a sunny morning.

The Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) Dive Rescue Team, Portland Fire & Rescue (PF&R), and Port of Portland Fire & Rescue all race to the site where the truck slipped under the 61-degree, fast-moving river.

“This incident is a textbook example of ‘perfect’ inter-agency cooperation,” says MSCO spokesman, Lt. Jason Gates, as he fills us in on the rescue effort.

Training exercise turns into rescue effort
When the mid-morning call came in, Gates says, the MCSO Dive Rescue Team are training at the 42nd Street boat ramp [on NE Marine Drive]. They grab their gear and arrive on scene six minutes later.

As MCSO divers charge into water, Port of Portland’s crew located the vehicle‚ 17 feet under the river’s surface.

“Fighting against the river’s strong current, MCSO diver Dep. Brent Laizure finds the driver, still stuck, half-way out of the pick-up’s rear window,” reports Gates. “Laizure cuts the driver free from his seat belt, pulls him free, and transfers the seemingly dead driver to Gresham Fire diver Lt. Jay Cross.”

Removed from his truck by a sheriff’s deputy, then being taken to the river’s bank by a Gresham Fire diver, PF&R firefighters carry the accident victim up to waiting paramedics.

Cross swims and guides the patient to shore where PF&R rescue workers bring the victim from the river’s edge, then up the steep embankment to awaiting paramedics.

Paramedics establish a pulse
The rescued driver wasn’t breathing and didn’t have a pulse. Despite the two dozen minutes the man had been under water, paramedics applied CPR and oxygen, and to their astonishment were able to establish a pulse. They transported him to Emanuel Hospital.

Because of the rapid response of three agencies, paramedics were able to reestablish the victim’s pulse.

“From the time the man went into the water to recovery was approximately 26 minutes,” Gates explains. “Although rare, in cold-water drowning, there exists a possibility of resuscitation.”

The driver, identified as 55-year-old Roy Clark, a Gresham resident, is in critical condition at Legacy Emanuel Hospital & Health Center. Clark is said to have suffered a medical condition that caused him to momentarily lose consciousness, thus losing control of his vehicle.

“The teamwork among the agencies was superb,” comments Gates. “They gave the victim a chance to survive.”

Clark’s pickup truck was recovered from the Columbia River after he was rescued.

Photos: MSCO
© 2007 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News Service

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