Bystanders come to man’s rescue in the nick of time

Sore but standing, Seattle resident and Gorge frequenter Tom Dawson was out of the hospital and mobile three days after a kiteboarding crash at the Hood River sandbar that would have ended much worse if fellow kiteboarders and onlookers didn’t come to his immediate rescue.

Photo by Adam Lapierre.
Sore but standing, Seattle resident and Gorge frequenter Tom Dawson was out of the hospital and mobile three days after a kiteboarding crash at the Hood River sandbar that would have ended much worse if fellow kiteboarders and onlookers didn’t come to his immediate rescue.

Imagine lying face down in the river, fully conscious but unable to move, aware of people around you but unsure if they’ll be able to flip you over before the last breath burning in your lungs expires and you drown.

“I was awake; I just couldn’t move,” said Tom Dawson, who faced that fearful situation Wednesday evening while kiteboarding at the west end of the Hood River sandbar. The 49-year-old field engineer and Seattle resident was enjoying some of last week’s warm, windy conditions when a small slipup nearly cost him his life.

“I had just finished a trick and was riding away on the toeside of my board. I knew it was shallow, but not that shallow. My board slipped out and I fell forward, head-first into the water.”

The impact on Dawson’s forehead didn’t leave so much as a scratch or a bruise, but it was enough to cause temporary paralysis from head to toe. Still attached to his kite, he lay helpless and face down in the water, hoping that someone who saw the crash, either from the deck of the nearby Sandbar Café or one of the many kiteboarders in the area, would come to his aid in time. As his body began convulsing from lack of oxygen, Hood River native Justin Wiley was the first to reach him.

“I put my kite down in the water, ditched my board and put my left arm behind his neck and gently flipped him over,” Wiley said Monday from his job at 2nd Wind Sports. “From the moment I rolled him over, he was awake and speaking very quietly. He kept saying, ‘Please keep my head above water.’ I knew I needed to be careful with his neck, so I just held him carefully in that position until other people came over to help.”

Second to Dawson’s aid was local kiteboarding instructor Blaine Baker, who jumped over the railing of the Sandbar Café and swam to help. A few others arrived moments later to help clear the water of kites, lines and boards and stabilize Dawson until paramedics arrived.

“It’s very humbling,” Dawson said. “I’m usually the one who is helping others, and the way everyone came to my side like they did is very humbling.”

After being taken to Providence Hood River Memorial Hospital, he was transferred to Legacy Emanuel in Portland, where he quickly regained feeling and the use of his limbs. He was released Friday and spent much of Saturday stiff and slow, but able to hang out by the river and watch his friends kiteboard.

For Wiley and others who helped with the rescue, the news of his recovery was a great relief in what could have been a tragic situation.

“I haven’t talked to him since, but am stoked to hear he is doing so well,” Wiley said. “I just feel fortunate to have been there at the right time and to have been able to do what I know anyone else would have done in that same situation.”

While driving back home to Seattle after what turned out to be a very long week, Dawson offered the sincere words, “From everyone who helped me in the water, to the paramedics and the staff in Hood River and Portland, I am grateful. Thank you.”

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Parkdale third graders sing "12 Disaster Days of Christmas"

Welcome to your sing-able Christmas gift list. What follows is an emergency rendition of “12 Days of Christmas” – for outfitting your home or car in case of snow storm, earthquake, flood or other emergency. Read it as a simple list, or sing it to the tune of “12 Days” – you know, as in “ … and a partridge in a pear tree…” Not to make light of it, but the song is a familiar framework for a set of gift ideas that you could consider gathering together, even if the recipient already owns items such as a bunch of coats, tire chains and flashlights. Stores throughout the Gorge are stocked up on all these items. Buying all 12 days might be prohibitive, but here are three ideas for checking any of the dozen off your list (notations follow, 1-12.) The gift items needed to stay warm, dry and safe are also coded to suggest items in your abode (A) in your car (C) or both (B). 12 Gallons of Water (A) 11 Family meals (B) 10 Cans of propane (A) 9 Hygiene bags (B) 8 Packs of batteries (A) 7 Spare coats (B) 6 Bright red flares (C) 5 Cozy blankets (B) 4 Tire chains (C) 3 Flashlights (B) 2 cell phone chargers (B) 1 And a crush-proof first aid kit (B) Price ranges? Here’s a few quotes for days Three, Two, Four and Nine: n A family gift of flashlights (three will run $15-30, Hood River Supply, Tum-A-Lum) n Cell phone chargers (two will run $30-60) n Tire chains (basic set, $30, Les Schwab, returnable if unused for the winter) n Family meals ($100 or so should cover the basics for three or four reasonably well-fed days) n The home kit should be kept in a handy place near an exit, and remember that water needs to be replenished every few months. If you have a solid first aid kit already, switch out the gift idea with “and-a-sto-o-u-t- tub-for it-all …” Otherwise, it’s a case of assembling your home or car kits and making sure all members of the family know what the resources are and how to use them (ie flares and propane). Emergency situations are at worst life-threatening, at best deeply uncomfortable if you and your family are left without power for an extended period, or traveling and find yourself in a situation where you need to wait out a storm, lengthy traffic delay, or other crisis. Notes on the 12 gift ideas: 12 – Gallons of water: that’s one per person in a four-member family to last for three days, the recommended minimum to be prepared for utility outages. 11 – Easy-open packaged goods, energy bars, dried food and nuts are good things to include for nutrition. Think of what your family of four needs for three days to stay fortified and hydrated (see number 12). Can-opener also recommended 10 – If you have a propane camping stove, keep extra fuel handy. 9 – Hygiene bags: put packaged moistened towelettes, toilet paper, and plastic ties in large garbage bags (for personal sanitation) Resource list courtesy of Hood River County Emergency Management, Barbara Ayers, manager/ 541-386-1213. The county also reminds residents to Get a Kit, Make A Plan to connect your family if separated, and Stay Informed. See to opt-in for citizen alerts. Enlarge

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