Rescuer dies in Wenatchee River accident
By Rachel Schleif, Staff Writer, Leavenworth Echo
A Wenatchee woman died early Sunday after trying to rescue two friends in the Wenatchee River Saturday afternoon. Meghan Doggett, 21, was pronounced dead at 3:30 a.m. on Sunday at Central Washington Hospital (CWH). Mindy Cosart was in critical condition at CWH at press time, according to hospital officials. Witnesses and emergency crews arrived at the scene between 4 and 4:40 p.m. and performed CPR for at least an hour on Doggett and 17-year-old Cosart. The girls, both of Wenatchee, were unconscious when taken to CWH, but had steady heartbeats and sporadic breathing, EMTs said.The third girl, Lisa Vargas, 15, walked away from the accident traumatized, but uninjured.
The girls’ day began on a warm sandy beach upriver from the steel walking bridge in Tumwater Canyon. Vargas, Doggett and Cosart were relaxing with a group of about 12 friends on the riverbank opposite of Highway 2, Vargas said. Vargas and Cosart were floating on a green inflatable mattress trying to reach a large rock from where they planned to jump, Vargas said. Another group of young adults on the opposite side of the river saw Vargas and Cosart and yelled a warning to girls to stay out of the rapids. “Everyone was yelling at the girls, ‘Kick!, Kick!,’” said witness Craig White. “We kept yelling at them to let go of the (inflatable mattress) and swim out of there. They yelled back, I think they said, ‘Okay,’ and then they were swept down the river.”
Doggett and Vargas’s brother, Johnny, dove in after the girls as the rapids pulled the raft downstream. Doggett was swept into the rapids. Johnny returned to shore. Neither the girls nor their rescuers wore life vests. “We tried to swim but we had the float so we couldn’t,” Vargas said. “A rapid took me and we were separated. I saw her (Cosart’s) head bob, she wasn’t struggling or moving, and I didn’t see her anymore.” The rapids, known as Chaos by local white water enthusiasts, carried the girls nearly a mile downriver. “When I saw the rapids take them, I figured they were dead,” said witness Sergio Cuevas, a rafting guide with Osprey Rafting in Leavenworth and trained in white water rescue.“I know those rapids and I know what it does to people.” Cuevas and two friends ran to a car after seeing the girls disappear in the white water. They drove downriver and found witness Vince Hein who called 911 after seeing Cosart’s lifeless body floating in the water.
Cuevas and Brandon Boren jumped into the water at a calm bend in the river to bring Cosart to shore. “I couldn’t even see her, I jumped in swimming and people guided me to her,” Cuevas said. “We were exhausted as we pulled her out.” Cuevas and several men tried to revive Cosart with CPR for what “seemed like an hour, it was a long time,” Cuevas said. As the team continued, Cuevas noticed that Cosart’s body was badly bruised in the accident.
Meanwhile, Vargas swam to shore nearly 200 yards below the steel bridge, according to the Sheriff’s Office press release. Friends ran to her aid and brought her shoes and a towel. They escorted her across the walking bridge where she was examined and released by EMTs. Friends brought Doggett ashore onto a large rock where they immediately initiated CPR, Craig said. She was not breathing and had no pulse. She had visible head injuries, according to the press release. “There were lots of people there who gave her a fighting chance,” Craig said. “Hypothermia may have played a part in keeping them alive. The cold slowed down their metabolism and the affects of anoxia [lack of oxygen to the brain].
The accident was reported at 4:10 p.m. according to the press release. Emergency crews included Ballard Ambulance, the Chelan County White Water Rescue Team, the Chelan County Sheriff’s Office and firefighters from Chelan County Fire District 3. “When the sheriff called, a lot of our guides were out, but I know that Chris Oda of Leavenworth Mountain Sports was working so I called him,” Kathryn Stone of Osprey Rafting said. “We were very fortunate to have two inflatable kayaks ready to go.” Oda, a professional kayaking instructor, took medical personnel across the river in Osprey’s raft to Cosart. The water was too rough to paddle across where Doggett lay. EMT crews hiked at least three-fourths of a mile from the green bridge to Doggett, Craig said. Chelan County Sheriff’s Deputy Jerry Moore said at the scene the girls were underwater at least 20 minutes. “This was the first rescue I’ve ever been involved in, Cuevas said. After seeing her (Cosart’s) limp body, it was kind of a traumatic event. Brandon and I were shaking afterwards. Johnny Vargas held a blanket around his shaking sister as they both stared blankly across the river at Cosart and the rescue crew. A similar drowning occurred in the same rapids in 2003, taking the life of 15-year-old Alisa Belcourt of Redmond.
Rachel Schleif can be reached at 548-5286 or by e-mail at rachel (at) leavenworthecho (dot) com