A Warrenton man remains missing and is presumed drowned after his sports boat flipped during a fishing trip on the Columbia River Saturday morning.

North Coast Home Care manager Don Slater, 40, his son, Brian, 19, and son's friend Eric Peterson, 23, were planning to fish for sturgeon when they decided to drop anchor about 100 yards west of the Astoria Bridge just before 8 a.m.

But the anchor line became tangled on a bow cleat - part of a boat's mooring system - and a strong ebb tide dragged the bow into the water, down toward the anchor on the river's bottom.

"That tripped the boat and it rolled over in the current," said Bob Coster, civilian search and rescue controller at U.S. Coast Guard Group Astoria.

All three aboard were thrown into 58-degree water. None was wearing a lifejacket, Coster said.

Someone watching the scene unfold from shore called for help, and an HH-60 helicopter crew from Air Station Astoria was diverted to the area. A motor lifeboat and 25-foot response boat were launched from Station Cape Disappointment, and a Clatsop County Sheriff's Office marine patrol was underway by 8:05 a.m.

The person who phoned in the report lost sight of the fishermen at 7:57 a.m., Coster said.

Authorities recovered the two younger men within 30 minutes of their plunge into the water. One was snatched by a rescue swimmer who dropped free-fall from the helicopter, the other was grabbed by a sheriff's deputy.

It was just in time, said Coster. They were struggling to stay afloat against a current faster than 5 knots, driven by the outgoing tide. "Neither one had much time left," he said. "Both were on the verge of drowning."

Both survivors were taken to Columbia Memorial Hospital, where they warmed up and were released.

However, the father, who was seen within 15 minutes of the rescue, disappeared.

Coast Guard crews combed 40 square nautical miles of the lower Columbia from the Astoria Bridge to the river's mouth looking for Don Slater. The search was suspended at 3:01 p.m. pending any new developments.

Clatsop County sheriff's deputies recovered the capsized boat and turned it over to Brian Slater Saturday afternoon.

Given the short time the men could survive in the river, bogged down by their heavy cotton clothes and without life jackets, it was lucky a Good Samaritan noticed them struggling, said Coster. "If they didn't see it, everybody would have perished," he said.

In a statement issued today, the Clatsop County Sheriff's Office encouraged boaters to wear personal flotation devices. "They are essential for even confident boaters," the statement said.


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