A 71-year-old man would have died early Thursday morning in the frigid inlet waters near King Salmon Avenue had it not been for a nearby neighbor who heard his cries for help.
Humboldt Bay Assistant Fire Chief Rusty Goodlive said if the Humboldt County Sheriff's Office deputies who first responded to the scene at around 4 a.m. had been alerted any later, they would have found a much grimmer situation.
”They found the guy, and were holding on to him with the rope,” Goodlive said. “If they had not done what they did, the man would have most likely died.”
The deputies found King Salmon resident Ted Cooper, 71, in the water clinging to a rope between a boat and a dock located about 20 yards northeast from his home on Sole Street. Emergency service personnel were able to pull Cooper out of the water and took him to a hospital to be treated for severe hypothermia and cuts on his arms and legs. Cooper was estimated to be in the water for about 45 minutes before deputies located him.
The neighbor who notified the sheriff's office of the situation, 27-year-old Timothy Owens, said he was sleeping on his yacht -- which he had only moved into two days earlier -- when he heard someone yelling around 3:30 a.m.
”At first I thought it was someone intoxicated acting belligerent,” Owens said. “It went on for a good 10 minutes before I went out. But then I started hearing that he was yelling, 'Help, help,' and then, 'Anybody, anybody.' I didn't recognize the voice.”
When the deputies located Cooper, they were able to prevent him from drowning by putting ropes around him and hoisting him up until medical aid arrived. After Cooper was pulled out, Owens said he could hear him asking the officers where he was.
”He sounded pretty out of it. The shock was setting in,” Owens said.
Many of Cooper's neighbors said they did not hear anything that morning. The neighbor directly across the street, Tex Eddleman, said Cooper may have been trying to get on his boat.
”I've been afraid of this,” Eddleman said. “He gets up in the middle of the night and just prowls around. He goes on that dock by himself.”
One of Cooper's caregivers came to the property during the early afternoon to assess how Cooper may have fallen into the canal just outside the home. The caregiver could not comment on Cooper due to health information privacy regulations.
Though his business is located right above where the rescue happened, Sammy's BBQ Restaurant owner Sam Vainuku said he did not hear about the rescue until later that morning.
”I'm just glad he didn't die,” he said. “I don't need any bad spirits lurking around my BBQ.”
After making the call to the sheriff's office and to 911, Owens said about a half-hour passed before deputies arrived and began to search for him.
”Before I heard him, who knows how long he had been in there,” he said. “A normal person couldn't last any longer than 20 minutes if you're sitting in there on a cold night.”
Goodlive said that people should not underestimate how dangerous cold waters can be.
”A lot of people don't appreciate how cold the water in Humboldt Bay is,” Goodlive said. “When people do fall in, it doesn't take long for hypothermia to set in.”
Sheriff's Office Lt. Steve Knight said he was “really grateful for the team effort” during the rescue.
”We're grateful for the resident who called in and reported it,” Knight said. “The dispatcher did a really good job of working with the resident and the deputies did a really good job of getting to the area, figuring out where the 'help' was coming from and being creative with the rope until better equipment was available.”
Only finding out that it was Cooper he had heard yelling shortly before being interviewed, Owens was still shocked.
”I can't believe it was Ted,” Owens said. “He was suffering through that. I've never heard Ted talk that loud before. He was desperate. I was amazed he was still alive.”