Marine rescue volunteers save kayakers

A Marine Search and Rescue team retrieved two kayakers from below Deception Pass bridge on Sunday.

Volunteers from North Whidbey Fire and Rescue’s Marine Search and Rescue team retrieved two kayakers from underneath Deception Pass bridge on Sunday.

The kayakers, a man and a woman, were paddling in Cornet Bay late in the afternoon Sept. 11, according to David Carnes with the marine rescue unit. Carnes said the pair “poked around the corner” without realizing how strong the current under the bridge would be and were swept out by the rapids. Both kayakers were wearing life jackets.

The kayakers managed to secure themselves against the bluff on the north side of the pass and “were clawing to those rocks for dear life,” Carnes said. A passing boater saw them and called 911, initiating response.

The marine rescue unit responded around 6:30 p.m., shortly before sunset. The impending darkness would have complicated the situation, according to Carnes.

“They were 20 minutes from being in dire condition,” he said.

The rescue was also high-risk because of the speed of the current under the bridge. Interim Fire Chief Chris Swiger said the outgoing tide was moving at over eight knots, or just over nine miles per hour, a very high speed for water.

Whirlpools in the area also made it difficult for the rescue team to maneuver its vessels.

“It is not easy putting a boat up against the wall with all the moving parts for the rescue,” Swiger said.

The marine rescue unit sent in a rigid inflatable boat and pulled the kayakers aboard. Neither kayaker was injured. The rescue unit had another larger vessel standing by. Marine rescue personnel recovered both kayaks. The entire operation took around 18 minutes, Carnes said.

“It just went perfect,” he said. “It was one of the most rewarding rescues because everything went just as we trained.”

North Whidbey Fire and Rescue’s Marine Search and Rescue team is an all-volunteer unit of island residents with boating experience who train twice a month to assist in emergency situations.

Carnes encouraged paddlers to write their names and phone numbers on their vessels, avoid substance use when boating, always wear life jackets and call for help when they need it.