Boater pulled from harbor

Emergency responders help tie up Chuck Maddox’s boat, which was recovered after his rescue. - Photo by Justin Burnett/Whidbey News Group
Emergency responders help tie up Chuck Maddox’s boat, which was recovered after his rescue.
— image credit: Photo by Justin Burnett/Whidbey News Group

Charles “Chuck” Maddox, a Freeland resident and Snohomish County Fire District captain, was checking his catch in Holmes Harbor shortly after 7 a.m. Monday when a line around his foot caused him to lose his balance and fall overboard.

Maddox found himself treading very cold water and attempting to right the small aluminum dinghy but met with limited success.

Knowing from his training that the danger increased with every second spent in the frigid water, estimated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to be in the low to mid 50s, Maddox began calling for help and blowing a whistle attached to his life preserver.

“God did I blow that whistle,” Maddox later said with a laugh.

Fortunately for Maddox, someone heard him, East Harbor Road resident Virginia Bloom. Bloom and her husband, Ken, were still in bed and only half awake when they heard a puzzling sound.

“I’m thinking, ‘That’s not a bird, what is that?’” Bloom recalled.

Listening for a few minutes, it became clear that it was in fact a whistle and that a person was also yelling for help. The rushed to the edge of their property.

“Sure enough, there was a guy clinging to a half submerged boat … He was yelling, ‘I’m freezing.’”

Ken Bloom called 911, and, about 15 minutes later, the couple watched as a South Whidbey Fire/EMS marine rescue boat sped out and scooped up a very cold Maddox.

Deputy Chief Mike Cotton said the recovery went smoothly and without incident. They were all back at the Freeland Park dock within a few minutes, and the crew of the fireboat watched as their shivering Snohomish County colleague dashed to an awaiting ambulance

“He was literally running,” said Cotton with a chuckle. “He said, ‘I’m OK. I’m just cold.”

Emerging about 30 minutes later wrapped in blankets, a chagrinned but smiling Maddox yelled with good-natured humor  at a reporter with a camera, “Don’t do it, no pictures.”

He then recounted his unexpected adventure, noting that the incident may have ended very differently had he not been wearing a life preserver.

Even those who are trained in emergency response can find themselves in unexpected trouble, which is why it’s so important to always be prepared, he said.

While this was a light-hearted incident that ended well for a friend and colleague, Maddox’s rescuers agreed this was a testament to the importance of both having and wearing a lifejacket.

“They don’t work unless you wear them,” Cotton said. “He was wearing it and it saved him.”

He noted that the water temperature is still cold enough in the summer to result in a fatality.

Virginia Bloom, who later learned that it was Maddox, a neighbor for many years, said she was relieved to hear he was OK.

“He won’t live this down for a while, but thankfully he lived through it,” Bloom said.

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