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Hypothermic but alive | Boater survives frigid Holmes Harbor for 15 minutes
A man was transported to Whidbey General Hospital Thursday for injuries he sustained after falling out of a 16-foot boat in Holmes Harbor.
And first responders said he has one man to thank for being alive: Forrest Hill.
The Clinton carpenter heard Matt Shorey’s pleas for help as he worked on a home near the old holly farm on Bercot Road in Freeland. He grabbed an inflatable dinghy that was not fully inflated from a nearby dock and rowed out to him about 50 yards away. Fearing the dinghy would tip if he tried to bring Shorey into it, he told him to grab onto a rope and rowed back to the dock.
Paul Busch, assistant chief of South Whidbey Fire/EMS, was one of the first responders to make sure the boater got out of the water and got warm. He said the man was likely treading water between 15 and 20 minutes and credited the good Samaritan for retrieving Shorey so quickly.
“I was surprised he held on as long as he did,” Busch said. “By the time Central Whidbey, South Whidbey and the Coast Guard would have gotten out here, the outcome could’ve been different.”
At least three people in the area called 911 to report the unidentified man had gone overboard. Shorey was not wearing a personal flotation device or lifejacket at the time and did not have the “deadman’s” switch — a plug that kills the engine if removed — on the engine enabled. Shorey’s brother, Tim Shorey, who has worked with Hill, was greatly appreciative.
“I went over to the other job site and thanked him a hundred times,” Tim Shorey said of Hill, adding that a bit of fortune aided the rescue.
Hill was about to leave to get some lumber needed for the job, but was called off when the general contractor, Gary Roth, found the right pieces.
“If it hadn’t been by the grace of God that that guy left his boat on the dock, it would have been different,” Hill said.
After Matt Shorey, who Busch said did not know how to swim, was taken away to Coupeville by ambulance, the boat remained in operation and in gear, spinning in circles on the water and attracting the attention of other curious boaters. It was retrieved later by friends of the Shorey family, though Tim Shorey said it was mostly submerged.
Holmes Harbor is about 45 to 50 degrees this time of year. Busch said the hypothermic man was shivering, but conscious after he was pulled out of the water and onto a dock near the holly farm on Bercot Road in Freeland. First responders made sure to get the man out of his soaked outfit and covered with jackets, blankets and a cap.
Neither South Whidbey, Central Whidbey, Camano nor the United States Coast Guard had to deploy marine rescue vessels because of the quick action by Hill.