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Video: Fishing boat sinks at Hood River waterfront

September 15, 2011

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CRITFE officers attempt to flip the capsized fishing boat right-side up.

A pair of Yakama tribal fisherman had a lousy day Tuesday.

Frank Kuneki and uncle Alex Kuneki were fishing for salmon on the Columbia River, when they discovered their boat was overloaded.

They attempted to make it to the dock near the Hood River Inn, only to have the boat swamp and capsize a few dozen yards from shore. The pair bailed out of the boat and swam to the beach as hundred of pounds of salmon floated out of the boat.

"They were coming in really fast and we could see the boat was overloaded, said Pat Price of Spokane, who witnessed the sinking with her fiancé. "Then when they slowed down the weight of the fish pushed it down."

"We were overloaded and then the rollers started coming over the side," Frank Kuneki said.

A boat from Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fisheries Enforcement was on the scene within moments. It was a busy morning for CRITFE, which was already dealing with another sinking fishing vessel on the Washington side of the river.

A crowd of bystanders gathered on the shore and watched from the Inn's restaurant deck as CRITFE officers tried to figure out to raise the boat. After several failed attempts to pull the capsized craft to shore, they eventually threw a grappling hook over the side of the boat and flipped it upright.

However, that only solved half of the problem, as the boat was still swamped and the flipping caused several more items, including a tarp and cooler, to come free from the boat. Meanwhile dozens of sea gulls descended on the scene to feast on the slew of salmon floating in the river.

Some swooped in, while others sat in the water next to the recently caught fish, which were both significantly larger and fresher than the average seagull's fare, and pecked away to their heart's content.

The CRITF officers instructed Frank Kuneki and bystander David Thompson, who had been trying to help pull the boat in, to tie a rope through the back of the sunken craft. The first attempt to pull the boat in using a large rock on shore, failed when the rope slipped off the rock, leaving Alex Kuneki with rope burns on his hands.

They then used the CRITFE boat to raise it enough so that a pump could turned on. However, the sunken boat's bailing bucket had been lost when it capsized, and the CRITFE officers did not have one, leading to a call to the Hood River office for a bucket. While they waited, Thompson and Frank Kuneki continued to try and keep the boat level, while the CRITFE boat idled to keep tension on the rope and prevent it from swamping again.

Eventually a bucket arrived and Frank Kuneki and Thompson and several CRITFE officers commenced to bailing and were eventually able to get the boat to shore. Meanwhile another officer treated Alex Kuneki, who had suffered rope burns when the rope they were using in their attempt to pull the boat to the shore had earlier slipped off a rock.

Thompson, from Madison, Wis., wound up spending most of his morning helping to save the boat, while getting completely drenched. "I like the water and I like to help people," he said. "I'm retired, so what else am I going to do?"

With the boat safely high and dry for the time being, the focus turned to towing it over to the Inn's dock.

Only one problem - the tarp which had earlier drifted free from the sunken vessel had been sucked into the CRITFE boat's water intake.

Several efforts to pull it out were fruitless, leaving the boat to limp back to port so it could be put up on a trailer to remove the tarp. Meanwhile, Thompson and another CRITFE officer helped to pull the Kuneki's boat over to the dock.

While the boat was saved, the story didn't have an entirely happy ending for the Kunekis. They were both soaked, Alex had his hands wrapped in bandaged, and the pair wound up recovering only a small bags worth of the many fish they had caught that morning.

The local seagulls however, had a fantastic day.

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