Video captures dramatic rescue after colossal wave capsizes boat

U.S. Coast Guard video by Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael Clark

Ryan Dickinson, Student Writer

A tense video captured the moment a colossal wave capsized a boat and the ensuing rescue by a Coast Guard rescue swimmer to help save the man that was on board.

The rescue happened approximately 6 miles west of the Columbia River mouth near Astoria, Oregon, on Feb. 3.

At 10 a.m., Coast Guard Sector Columbia River command center watchstanders received a “Mayday” radio distress call from a man aboard a disabled 35-foot boat and were able to obtain an approximate position of the distress call origin using radio tower triangulation a Coast Guard press release explains.

Several 47-foot Motor Lifeboat crews from Coast Guard Station Cape Disappointment and the National Motor Lifeboat School responded to the call for help. Additionally, an MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter aircrew of the Advanced Rescue Helicopter School was launched to assist with rescue efforts.

Aboard the helicopter was Petty Officer 3rd Class John “Branch” Walton, a Greensville, South Carolina, native, and an aviation survival technician, commonly referred to as a rescue swimmer.

Petty Officer 3rd Class John “Branch” Walton, a rescue swimmer assigned to Air Station North Bend, Oregon, poses for a portrait at the air station Feb. 14, 2023. Walton rescued a mariner in distress Friday, Feb. 3, 2023, after the disabled, 35-foot vessel Sandpiper was capsized by a breaking wave approximately 6 miles west of the Columbia River mouth. (U.S. Coast Guard courtesy photo)

While Walton and other students were in a classroom during their final day of ADHS, a school for all members of helicopter crews to practice and learn about conducting rescues as a team, they heard about the distress call. Even though every student was eager to join in the rescue, Walton was ultimately the one who ended up in the helicopter heading toward the man who needed saving.

Due to 20-foot seas and extremely high windspeeds, the boat crews were unable to safely execute a rescue but were able to provide the man on the boat with a personal flotation device.

Walton was lowered into the water from the helicopter by a cable and began swimming toward the boat.

“Once I got to the boat, I started yelling at him to get in the water because we planned to get him into the rescue sling,” said Walton. “He pointed to the wave and that’s when it hit us pretty good.”

Video footage captured by the helicopter crew reveals a massive wave that capsizes the 35-foot boat sending the man on board into the water. Walton was able to dive under the massive wave, locate the man, place him into the rescue sling and get them both safely into the helicopter.

The helicopter crew flew the rescued man to Coast Guard Base Astoria, where medics treated him for mild hypothermia and then transported him to a hospital.

Following the rescue, Walton humbly credited teamwork as the recipe for success.

“In my eyes, I did not do anything special,” said Walton. “I just got hit by a big wave and it got caught on camera. I did my job. I think our teamwork is the coolest part. It is the whole team that makes this work.”

An Advanced Helicopter Rescue School crew stands in front of an MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter, Feb. 3, 2022, in Astoria Oregon. The crew returned from a search and rescue case where they saved a man from a boat that was capsized by a breaking wave. (U.S. Coast Guard Courtesy photo)

In an unexpected twist, it turns out the man Walton rescued was wanted by the Astoria Police Department.

According to Astoria Police Chief Stacy Kelly, they began looking for the man after an acquaintance alerted them to a video he posted on social media of himself leaving fish at the house featured in the classic 1985 film, “The Goonies” and tampering with security cameras. Only after police saw the Coast Guard rescue video and photos did they realize that it was the same person who allegedly trespassed and left dead fish at the Goonies house.

The hospital had already released the man when police connected the dots, but in the end, they were able to locate and arrest him at a homeless shelter in Seaside, Oregon.