Corbett Fire first agency in the state using ‘Aqua Eye’ to find drowning victims

First responders urge people to wear life jackets after two drownings in a week
Published: Jul. 30, 2022 at 5:36 PM PDT
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MULTNOMAH COUNTY, Ore. (KPTV) - It’s been a rough week for fire crews. They’ve gone to three water rescue calls and two of those ended with drownings.

“We were all really sad driving back to the station last night,” Corbett firefighter and paramedic Jasmine Zimmer-Stucky said. “To experience two fatalities in one week. It takes a toll on us.”

On Wednesday, a man went under water and never came up in the Sandy River near Oxbow Park. Corbett and Gresham fire crews found 46-year-old Derek Johnson, but paramedics couldn’t save him. They said he was paddle boarding when he fell in and wasn’t wearing a life jacket.

The next day, the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office said a 12-year-old got swept away at Oxbow Park. Luckily, his parents got to him, and they waited for crews to rescue them after making it to a beach, with the help of a few bystanders.

On Friday, the sheriff’s office said a man went into the Sandy River at Dabney Park alone, began to struggle and didn’t resurface. He was taken to the hospital, where he died.

The latest drowning victim was found with a sonar device called an Aqua Eye.

“It does a 180 scan of the river going about,” Zimmer-Stucky said. “Right now, I have it at medium range so it’s looking 20 meters out. I can put it in long range or short-range depending on where we think our victim is.”

Zimmer-Stucky said they’re the only agency in the state that has it, and they used it for the first time Friday. She said it cuts down search times.

“When a patient is under water, every second counts,” she said. “Every minute counts. We purchased this tool after what was… last summer where we had very painful, very challenging, long searches.”

Corbett Fire has been at all three calls this week. Zimmer-Stucky said people underestimate just how unpredictable the Sandy River is.

“There are steep drop offs, rocky bottoms,” she said. “You could go out on the river… 30 feet and water that was once up to your knee is now up to your neck. If you weren’t expecting that, that could be a huge risk to someone’s safety. If you aren’t in a life jacket, you’re all of a sudden at the bottom, finding yourself at the bottom of a really deep river system that is moving swiftly.”

She reminded people there are loaner life jackets people can use at parks like Dabney, Oxbow and Glenn Otto, because both people who died this week weren’t wearing one.