Photo: Stock / Unsplash
By Gene Johnson, Associated Press
SEATTLE (AP) — A man who was saved by a Coast Guard rescue swimmer at the mouth of the Columbia River as a massive wave rolled the yacht he was piloting Friday was wanted for a bizarre incident in which police said he left a dead fish at the Astoria, Oregon, home featured in the classic 1985 film, “The Goonies.”
Officers had been looking for the man since Wednesday, when an acquaintance alerted them to a video he posted on social media of himself leaving the fish at the house and then dancing around the property, Astoria Police Chief Stacy Kelly said.
Kelly identified the man as Jericho Labonte, 35, of Victoria, British Columbia. Labonte is also wanted in British Columbia on criminal harassment, mischief and failure to comply cases from last fall, Kelly said.
Early Friday afternoon, the Coast Guard shared stunning video of a rescue made a few hours earlier in which a newly minted rescue swimmer lowered by cable from a helicopter swam to a 35-foot (11-meter) yacht that was struggling in heavy surf. As the swimmer approached the vessel, a large wave slammed into it, rolling the boat over and throwing a man, later identified as Labonte, into the water.
The swimmer, Petty Officer 1st Class Branch Walton, of Greenville, South Carolina, reached Labonte and pulled him to safety. The helicopter crew flew him to Coast Guard Base Astoria, where medics treated him for mild hypothermia and transported him to a hospital.
The yacht’s owner, who lives in nearby Warrenton, Oregon, reported the vessel stolen later Friday, the police chief said.
The hospital had already released Labonte when police saw the Coast Guard photos and video and realized it was the same person who they said covered over security cameras at the Goonies house and left the dead fish on the porch.
Police were still looking for Labonte Friday evening.
Kelly didn’t know what kind of fish it was, but said police believed it was caught locally because after the video started circulating another person reported having taken Labonte fishing.
“It’s been a really odd 48 hours,” Kelly said.
The mouth of the Columbia, the largest North American river flowing into the Pacific Ocean, is known as “the graveyard of the Pacific” for its notoriously rough seas. The Coast Guard received the yacht’s mayday call around 10 a.m. Friday while conducting trainings nearby, Petty Officer Michael Clark said.
The mayday contained no information about location or the specific problem, but the agency roughly triangulated the vessel’s location and nearby boat crews and a helicopter responded.
They found the P/C Sandpiper yacht taking on water in 20-foot (6-meter) seas, meaning the height of a wave from the previous trough could be as much as 40 feet (12 meters), Clark said.
Walton, who only recently graduated from the Coast Guard’s rescue swimmer program, was lowered from the helicopter by a cable. Labonte climbed onto the stern and prepared to enter the water just as a huge wave slammed the craft, throwing him into the surf. The wave struck so violently that the vessel rolled completely over and wound up floating upright.
Walton said in an interview Friday that he planned to reach the man, get him in the water and hook him to a cable attached to the helicopter. Instead, the wave hit.
“I kind of got thrown around a little bit by the wave. When I came up I noticed the boat was pretty much in shambles,” Walton said.
He directed the helicopter to bring him to Labonte after spotting him in the surf a short distance away. The force of the wave had mostly knocked off his life jacket, Walton said.