Drowning man saved by “Christmas Ship”

PORTLAND, Ore. (KATU) – Boaters participating in a Christmas parade in Portland helped rescue a drowning man Tuesday night.

Every December, the Christmas Ships twinkle on the waters of the Columbia and Willamette Rivers. It’s a 65-year-old tradition.

Boater Rob Steffeck explained, “People that do Christmas Ships love boating and this gives us an excuse to be on our boat.”

Steffeck was leading the parade Tuesday night when he noticed something in the water under the Fremont Bridge that got his attention. “We saw what we thought was a log and the closer we got to it there was some movement,” he said.

That movement was a person drowning. Steffeck said the person’s face was barely above the surface when he heard a cry for help.

Steffeck said, “It was a very weak sounding help because the person was hypothermic, I’m sure, because the water temperature is 42 degrees.”

Steffeck positioned his boat so he and the people on board could get the victim out of the water. He said, “As we got to the person, he sunk under the water and was probably under for 30 seconds before we were able to fish him out.”

He said they did what they could to warm up the victim until Portland fire and rescue arrived.

Witness Chris O’Neill said, “It’s just insane. I mean, think about that. I mean, the guy was already underwater completely, so he wasn’t coming up, he wasn’t swimming, he wasn’t thrashing, he was done. So another 10, 20 seconds it would’ve been all over.”

O’Neill watched some of the rescue. He, like Steffeck, call it a miracle. “He had an angel looking over him.”

Steffeck said, “Christmas miracle kinda thing. You know? I mean it’s that season and we’re trying to bring joy to the people in Portland and that kinda goes right along with it.”

No further details about why the man was in the water, or his condition, have been released.

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