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Gresham resident saves two from drowning in Columbia River

Man was test-driving a vintage boat when he pulled a brother and sister to safety

Jon Wolf was taking his old, but new-to-him, boat for a second test drive on the Columbia River late Monday when he ended up saving a woman caught in the swift current, as well as her brother who tried to rescue her.

Kelly Jones, 19, of Vancouver had been wading and swimming along the wing dike that runs perpendicular to Rooster Rock Beach. But about 200 yards from shore, she slipped off the edge of an under-water drop and began floating downstream in the river's white caps.

With rescue boats on the way, Multnomah County sheriff's deputies, park rangers and bystanders on shore kept an eye on the woman as she continued downstream.

But her brother - Wesley Jones, 22, of Corbett - jumped in to rescue her and ended up needing rescuing himself.

That's where Wolf came in.

After two hours in his newly fixed up 1964 Glasspar motorboat, the 30-year-old Gresham man was heading back to shore when a man ran down the dock toward him.

'There's a woman struggling in the water, she's going under,' the man shouted.

Wolf headed toward the woman and noticed a second person, a man, bobbing in the water. Because the man was closer, Wolf pulled him out first. But while Wolf was rescuing the man, the woman continued to float downstream about a football field's length past the boat.

'So we boogied down there,' Wolf said.

By the time Wolf reached her, the woman had been treading water for 20 minutes and was exhausted.

At first, just her hands reached out of the water.

Then her head bobbed up and she yelled for help.

Wolf grabbed the woman and pulled her into the boat.

'She was obviously very tired and in shock,' Wolf said, adding that she'd also swallowed a lot of water.

With both people safe on board, irony struck.

Wolf couldn't get his boat started. The sheriff's office river patrol had to tow Wolf's boat to the Rooster Rock Boat Ramp, where paramedics evaluated Jones and gave her a clean bill of health.

Wolf said he's happy to have helped.

'I'm just glad to have been in the right place at the right time,' he said over the phone from his job maintaining cellular phone towers.

Although Jones and her brother were not wearing lifejackets, sheriff's officials credit the woman for keeping a cool head - even while struggling to keep it above water.

'She didn't fight the current, she didn't panic,' said Lt. Jason Gates, sheriff's spokesman. If she'd had, 'she would have drowned,' Gates said.

With 19 drownings in Oregon rivers and lakes since early June - including three local deaths in the Sandy River and Roselyn Lake - Gates said he's just glad this one had a happy ending.