Mike Shettel was working on a houseboat when he disappeared

All Ginger Shettel can do for now is wait. Her husband Mike, 58, disappeared into the Columbia River on Dec. 16 while working on a houseboat at a marina near the Shettels’ home on Marine Drive. A brief search turned up nothing, but Ginger suspects that her husband had a heart attack and fell into the river.

They were practically newlyweds, married less than a year, but had been together for nine years.

“I have lost the most important person in my life,” she said.

Mike had a heart condition, which Ginger didn’t realize until she contacted Mike’s family about his disappearance. She said she believes it’s something Mike hid from her because he didn’t want her to worry.

“He had told his closest friends and family never to tell me,” she said. “I saw the scars on his chest, but he told me a good story about how he fell off some scaffolding.”

She said Mike was sensitive about getting older and was under extra stress after learning he needed back surgery. But he took on the job of putting a window in a houseboat a few marinas downriver anyway, just to lend a hand.

by: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO: GINGER SHETTEL - Mike Shettel“He had a hard time turning people down,” his wife said. “He had been in the construction field most all of his life, and it was hard to accept he was not able to do as much as he used to.”

After going to Lowe’s for materials, Mike had lunch with his wife, packed up his tools and at about 12:30 p.m. took off in his boat to go downriver to a woman’s houseboat, telling his wife he’d be back that afternoon to watch “Monday Night Football.” Ginger said the woman’s husband had died of cancer and Mike volunteered to help her out.

“He said he’d be home by 4:30 to watch the football game, and 4:30 came and went,” she said.

Ginger didn’t like bothering Mike while he was working, she said, so she texted him to “call when you get the chance.” She never heard back.

She then called the woman Mike was doing the work for. No answer, so she texted and asked if Mike was still working there. The woman texted back that she wasn’t at home and had left about 45 minutes after Mike got there. When the woman returned home around 5:30 p.m., Ginger said, she called to say that Mike’s tools and boat where still there.

Ginger immediately went to the woman’s houseboat where she and others used flashlights to search the water, which she said was from 8 to 14 feet deep in the area where Mike was working.

At 9 p.m., she called 9-1-1 to report her husband missing.

Gresham police seemed powerless to do anything that night, Ginger said, and told her a search would have to wait until morning.

The next day, around 9 a.m. Dec. 17, a dive team from the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office spent about three hours searching the area around the houseboat and found nothing. The following day, the Sheriff’s Office spent another three hours searching the area with an underwater camera and again found no sign of Ginger’s husband.

“They did find a tape measure, and he could have slipped and fell between the houses,” she said. “There’s no evidence he hit his head, and there’s a nearby ramp and ladder and he could have pulled himself up — if he was consicious.”

Lt. Steve Alexander of the Sheriff’s Office said divers used a grid search of the area and then deployed sonar devices to search the river. He said the River Patrol Unit will continue to search, but only periodically unless new evidence is found.

“It’s a difficult operation because there’s no visibility in the river, and it’s a flowing river and things do move,” he said.

Mike’s disappearance is even more tragic for his family, Ginger said, since his father also died on the water.

“It took me a week to contact his mom, to tell her of the accident especially, but with no closure to offer,” she said. “The water had taken her husband, Mike’s father, on the Tillamook Bar, and now her only son on the Columbia. How does this happen twice to one person? How do you make that phone call?”

Ginger said she is thankful for friends and family as she tries to figure out what to do next, and hopes his body is found.

“I can only thank God, that between family, friends and work I have the most amazing support group, but I don’t know what to do. Do I have a memorial service now? Do I wait? I don’t know. But I know in my heart he’s out there, somewhere.”

In a way, that gives her a bit of peace in her time of trouble, because Mike loved the river.

“I know that my Mike is resting in the place he loved. Mike loved the peacefulness that the river provided as well as being able to walk out the door, jump in the boat and go fishing or even make a campfire on the island,” she said.

“But I pray to bring him home, to give closure for those that love him the most.”

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