Boy, 7, was playing in the river at Glenn Otto Park when he was swept away

by: OUTLOOK FILE PHOTO - Even with lifeguards patroling Glenn Otto Park in Troutdale, police caution those flocking to the Sandy River to wear lifejackets after a 7-year-old boy presumably drowned on Sunday.With forecasts for temperatures in the 90s, officials with American Medical Response’s river rescue program knew Glenn Otto Park on the Sandy River would be crowded last weekend.

And they were right: Estimated attendance topped 500 people, said Lucie Drum, AMR spokeswoman.

They even called in an extra lifeguard so three could patrol the area.

Those lifeguards rescued nine people on Saturday and six on Sunday before tragedy struck at 5 p.m.

As lifeguards were rotating their stations, to alleviate fatigue and keep fresh eyes on the water, one of them saw a child in distress and immediately responded.

The child was near the most hazardous stretch of river known as The Chute — so named because large rocks create fast water, turbulence and undertows.

Within seconds, a second lifeguard who was already in the water just upriver rescued the 9-year-old boy and safely brought him to shore, where he was reunited with his family.

But relief turned to panic when his family realized the boy’s 7-year-old brother was still in the river.

Lifeguards immediately called for additional resources and searched the area.

The Portland Fire Bureau’s Dive Team arrived and searched, followed by divers from the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office Dive Team.

“Despite continuous and multiple dives, AMR lifeguards were not able to locate the other child,” Drum said.

The park remained closed Monday, July 1, as the county’s dive team, assisted by Multnomah County Search and Rescue and Mountain Wave volunteers, as well as an Oregon National Guard helicopter, continued searching. They called off the search at 5 p.m., said Sgt. Carey Kaer, Troutdale Police spokesman.

It is the first drowning since 1999, when lifeguards began patrol this particular stretch of river at Glenn Otto Park.

Kaer is not releasing the boy’s name, citing the family’s request for privacy during this difficult time, he said.

The boy’s family lives in Portland but is from Bangladesh; neither boy was wearing a life jacket, Kaer said. They were at the river for a barbecue on the hottest day of the year, when temperatures in Troutdale reached 99 degrees, according to the National Weather Service.

The stretch of the Sandy River has a deadly history. In 1998, a 38-year-old Wood Village man came to the aid of a young girl caught in the river’s current. He managed to push her to shore but was swept under and drowned.

The next summer, AMR teamed up with the Troutdale Booster Club to launch a river safety program. Lifeguards monitor the river near Glenn Otto Park, loan life jackets and help swimmers in distress from mid-May to mid-September.

At least one person has drowned in the river since the program was launched, but that man was not in the area that lifeguards patrol.

What makes the Sandy River in Troutdale so dangerous is a deadly combination of frigid temperatures and strong currents, Kaer said.

Even during record-breaking heat waves, the water flowing past Glenn Otto Park remains shockingly cold. People jump in and experience leg cramps, or the frigid water literally takes their breath away, he said.

Fed from snowmelt off Mount Hood, the water was a chilly 58 degrees on Sunday. That’s cold enough to present some risk of hypothermia, Drum said.

Just before the first day of summer on June 21, AMR River Rescue Lifeguard Shawn Houston pointed at the river, rippling over rocks past the Troutdale Bridge.

“It’s a beautiful place to cool off, but it can become a very troublesome spot,” he said. “This is like a water treadmill — even when you’ve tired out swimming, the water will keep coming.”

Despite Sunday’s tragedy and the park being closed Monday, people once again flocked to the park when it opened up again Tuesday, July 2.

Lifeguards rescued six more people that day.

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