A chance turn of the head in the midst of loud, chaotic whitewater led to some watery heroics that may have saved a young woman’s life Sunday.
Oak Harbor resident Greg Goebel and his son, Gregory, were whitewater rafting on the Wenatchee River over the weekend with a group of men that included Oak Harbor Councilman Rick Almberg, Oak Harbor High School Principal Dwight Lundstrom, residents Joe Mossolino and Dave Thompson, as well as a couple of friends from another community.
Almberg said the group of guys go on an annual rafting trip this time of year led by Lundstrom, who has years of experience as a guide.
Greg Goebel said the trip is a good time for a father-and-son weekend, though he jokes that his son had to hang out with a group of “old men.” Gregory Goebel, a Oak Harbor High School graduate, is 25 years old and lives in Seattle.
The river was swollen and extremely cold from melting snowpack in the mountains, Almberg explained. As a result, the rapids were especially turbulent — and exciting.
The men split up into two boats during their two-hour trip from Leavenworth to Cashmere.
Most of them were in a “paddle raft” with the Goebels floating behind in a cataraft, a craft that “floats high in water,” is very difficult to flip and more maneuverable than other rafts, Almberg said.
Ahead of the men was a flotilla of six rafts from Youth Dynamics, a group that promotes religion to teens through outdoors adventures.
As the men were rafting Sunday morning, the men in the paddle raft first came upon a guide who had been tossed into the water from a Youth Dynamics raft. The woman was trapped in a hydraulic, an area of recirculating water formed when water pours over or around an object such as a large rock.
The woman couldn’t get out and kept being pulled under, Almberg said. Lundstrom saw her and reached to toss a line, but the raft flew by and was out of range too quickly.
There was no way for their raft or the Youth Dynamics rafts to travel upstream to save the woman.
The men yelled to the Goebels and pointed at the woman, but the water was too loud for them to hear, Greg Goeble said. His son just happened to look in the direction of the young woman.
“She was extremely lucky. Five seconds later and it would have been too late,” Greg Goebel said, noting that no other rafts seemed to be coming up behind them for quite some time.
Greg Goebel said he quickly realized how much danger the woman was in when they saw her go under and pop back to the top — even though she was wearing a life jacket. Her cries for help got louder each time she came to the surface.
He paddled against the current and managed to get to the woman just as she was coming up to the surface. His son reached down, grabbed her by the life jacket and lifted her up into their boat.
The teenager was near-hypothermic and very scared, but otherwise fine, Goebel said.
The Goebels delivered the woman to the Youth Dynamics folks, who had pulled the rafts to shore.
Father and son, as well as the men in the other raft, continued on their way. Both Greg Goebel and Almberg agree that whitewater rafting is a safe sport and that the guide was just caught in an unusual situation.
Nonetheless, it wasn’t the end of the day’s adventure for the father and son.
“We got pitched out at the very end,” Goebel said. “A wave washed me and my son off like we weren’t even there.”