It was the middle of the night when Columbia River Bar Capt. Debbie Dempsey fell overboard just west of the Columbia River Bar on March 5th. Capt. Dempsey had guided a grain ship over the treacherous bar and was climbing down a jacobs latter to return to the Pilot Boat COLUMBIA when the fall occurred. Bar pilots do not wear survival suits and, instead, use a type of lighter float suit that is equipped with a water-activated strobe and emergency radio beacon. In Captain Dempsey’s case, the crew of the Pilot Boat COLUMBIA was able to quickly locate Capt. Dempsey and get her back aboard the pilot boat.
In 2006, Captain Kevin Murray was working heavy weather as a Columbia River Bar Pilot when he fell in a similar transfer, losing his life. Investigation into Captain Murray’s death in a subsequent maritime wrongful death claim brought by Beard Stacey & Jacobsen revealed a number of deficiencies in the Columbia River Bar Pilots’ training and procedures. Columbia River Bar pilots now vigorously train in search and rescue procedures. The cause of Capt. Dempsey’s accident will be investigated by the Columbia River Bar Pilots, as well as probably the United States Coast Guard and the NTSB.