Two U.S. Coast Guard members didn’t think twice before jumping into the cold Chetco River after hearing a woman scream for help and seeing an SUV slowly sink into the river late Feb. 9.
The vehicle, driven by Renae Scott, 23, of Central Point, careened over the jetty rocks near the Coast Guard base at the Port of Brookings Harbor.
Seaman Mario Pereo and Petty Officer John Richards both heard a woman screaming for help, saw headlights in the water and dove in.
“It happened pretty quick,” Richards said of the mishap. “I was sitting on the rec deck ready go bed, and heard a loud scream outside the gate. It sounded like a woman in distress. A couple seconds after that, I heard a loud boom, like a car hit something, and I jumped up, ran outside to the gate, and I could hear a girl screaming, so I ran that way.”
He couldn’t tell if the car had struck bottom or was still sinking — all that was visible were muted headlights in the water — but heard the woman screaming still.
Pereo was near the basketball court, heard a woman scream and saw the car drive by the gate, pass the turnoff to the public fishing dock and over the jetty rocks and into the river.
“I didn’t think much,” Pereo said about the instinct that propelled him to jump in the water. “I was just helping people out. I wouldn’t have done anything different.”
It was late — about 10 p.m. — and the water was cold.
“Very,” Pereo said.
Richards got to the woman struggling to stay afloat, who told him there were three others in the car.
“She was screaming help, something like, ‘I can’t swim,’” he related. “She was obviously in distress.”
He got her to shore and noticed the second woman was safe. Neither saw the two men who were also in the vehicle, who had freed themselves and left the scene.
By then, Curry County Sheriff’s deputies had arrived; shortly thereafter, they found one walking along Lower Harbor Road, the other was located near U.S. 101 and Benham Lane.
No one was injured in the incident and the vehicle was pulled from the river early last Saturday.
A witness spoke to the men’s bravery in rescuing the women.
“They were very humble about it, like those fine folks tend to be, but it sounds like an incredible act,” he said. “They put themselves at no small risk doing it in a moving river, late at night, in freezing water, with no life jackets or rescue equipment, and no backup except each other.”
Although highly trained to rescue people from mishaps on the high seas, a car in the river was a first for them, the two men admitted.
“It was absolutely one of the more unusual calls,” Richards said. “We might not have even heard it if we’d already gone to bed.”