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Rescuers paddle out to save Penn Cove canoeist from drowning

Whidbey General Hospital paramedic Ian Tully and Madrona Way resident Mark Rasmussen haul a man to safety after he spent about 30 minutes clinging to the side of his canoe in Penn Cove.  - Justin Burnett/Whidbey News-Times
Whidbey General Hospital paramedic Ian Tully and Madrona Way resident Mark Rasmussen haul a man to safety after he spent about 30 minutes clinging to the side of his canoe in Penn Cove.
— image credit: Justin Burnett/Whidbey News-Times

A man was rescued from the frigid waters of Penn Cove Friday after spending about 30 minutes clinging for his life to the side of a canoe.

According to North Whidbey Fire and Rescue Operations Chief Henry Vanden Haak, emergency responders received a 911 call at about 3 p.m. today about a man who had fallen out of his canoe near Kennedy Bay on Madrona Way.

Vanden Haak, along with Battalion Chief Lyle Zimmerman and paramedics from Whidbey General Hospital, arrived on scene and saw the man holding on to the side of the canoe about 100 yards offshore. The fire department's water rescue boat was dispatched and was en route from Oak Harbor Marina but the call was made not to wait.

"We made the decision to go get him because he was beginning to struggle," Vanden Haak said.

The man had already been in the water for at least 15 minutes and it would take about that amount of time before the rescue boat was expected to arrive, which is enough time for hypothermia to set in, he said.

"We did not want to watch him slip under while we were sitting there watching him," Vanden Haak said.

Whidbey General Hospital paramedic Ian Tully boarded a canoe with Madrona Way resident Mark Rasmussen and paddled out to the man. Fearing that an attempt to pull the man out of the water would cause their canoe to tip over, the two rescuers instead towed both the man and his canoe to shore.

The man was so exhausted and cold that he could not stand on his own. Tully and Rasmussen hauled him up the beach to an awaiting ambulance.

Rasmussen said he saw the man fall into the water from his home. The man was attempting to board the canoe from a sailboat moored at the head of Penn Cove and apparently missed his step. Rasmussen jumped into action, hauling his own canoe to the beach while his brother called 911.

Vanden Haak and Zimmerman credited Rasmussen with helping to save the man's life, saying he was incapable of making it to shore without help and almost certainly would have drowned.

Rasmussen shrugged off the credit as no big thing.

"Maybe someone will do that for me someday," he said.

The man, whose identity could not be released because of privacy concerns, was transported to Whidbey General Hospital following his rescue.

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