Refuge Law Enforcement Partners with Local Law Enforcement to Conduct Successful Search and Rescue
Five hunters rescued from Snake River in Idaho after boat capsizes on Deer Flat National Wildlife Refuge.
NAMPA, Idaho — On Sunday, December 12, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Regional Law Enforcement Specialist Ray Portwood and Canyon County, Idaho’s Sheriff’s Deputy, Sergeant Jason Roberts conducted a successful search and rescue operation near Smith’s Island, a unit of the Deer Flat National Wildlife Refuge.
Portwood and Roberts had begun a routine day of patrols on the Snake River in Idaho for the Strategic Wildlife Enforcement Program. As Portwood arrived for the joint patrol, Roberts advised that they had just received notification of an active search and rescue case. A report had come in that a boat full of hunters had capsized with two adults and three children on board. The reporting party told officers that the hunters were able to swim to an island in the river. Located on a swiftly flowing segment of the Snake River with steep banks and water temperatures around 45 degrees, time was of the essence.
Portwood and Roberts began making their way down river scanning the islands of the refuge as they went. As they came to the north end of Smith’s Island, they located the hunters standing on the bank. The submerged boat was on a nearby gravel bar, propeller visibly sticking out of the water. Portwood and Roberts navigated the swift currents and approached the island’s shoreline.
Drenched and cold, the three children and one of the adults were assisted into the Canyon County Sheriff’s boat by Portwood. The remaining adult was rescued a short time later after the first boat load was safely offloaded on land. As the hunters warmed up in their vehicles nearby, Portwood and Roberts returned to the scene with one of the adults to retrieve what belongings they could.
The capsized boat broke free from the Smith’s Island gravel bar on Thursday morning and is currently off the Homedale RV park area along the shallow part of the channel.
Reports indicate the 12-foot boat was over its maximum load capacity and the hunters were not wearing PFDs when it capsized. With officers out on the water on routine patrol, they were perfectly equipped to handle a situation that could have been dire. True to the mission, refuge law enforcement is not just there to protect wildlife and habitat but also to make refuges safe places for people, exemplifying excellence in public service to all. Sunday’s rescue was more than just a public service, two families can now celebrate their holidays together.
“I’m glad we were on our regular patrol with our partners from Canyon County at the time and were able to quickly reach the people,” Portwood said. “It is amazing that someone didn’t drown in the fast running cold water. This serves as a sobering reminder to follow all boating regulations and not overload your boat. This could have been a tragedy for several families.”
Free Boat Safety Course Available
From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. December 18, the Canyon County Sheriff’s Office Marine Patrol Division and Idaho Parks & Recreation are offering a free boat safety course. The course will be taught at the Canyon County Emergency Operations Center, located at 1323 E. Chicago St., Caldwell, Idaho 83605. Attendees will learn about boats and maintenance, information to make their boating experience safer, Idaho boating laws, and tips on being a more courteous boat operator.
The course is open to all, regardless of experience, and attendees who complete the course will earn their boater education safety card. Those interested can register by visiting the Idaho Parks & Recreation website or emailing Sgt. Jason Roberts at email@example.com.
Article by Jennifer Koches, public affairs officer for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.