COLUMBIA RIVER - The U.S. Coast Guard continued to search Tuesday afternoon for a Columbia River bar pilot thrown into the Pacific Ocean while routinely transferring between boats late Monday.
Kevin Murray, 50, fell between the Chinook pilot boat and the cargo vessel Dry Beam, which he was leaving, as a wave hammered the boats, tossing him into 47-degree water around 9:30 p.m.
He was wearing a float coat, dark pants and a fanny pack at the time of the fall, which occurred near Buoy 2, several miles south of the entrance to the Columbia, according to Lt. j.g. Amy Sandbothe of U.S. Coast Guard Group Astoria.
The Coast Guard launched an HH-60 Jayhawk helicopter from Air Station Astoria and two 47-foot motor lifeboats from Station Cape Disappointment, which had to turn back because of 15- to 18-foot seas, 40-knot winds and overall treacherous conditions at the Columbia River bar.
With visibility of less than a quarter mile, the helicopter also turned back after searching for about three hours, Sandbothe said.
Tuesday morning, two more helicopters were launched from Air Station Astoria at first light to search for the missing bar pilot, who is described as about 6 feet tall and 230- to 280-pounds.
The Columbia River bar pilots are also searching for Murray by helicopter.
In addition, the Coast Guard has placed a data-marker buoy in the water to monitor the surface current and help refine the search, and will launch rescue boats if weather conditions improve, Sandbothe said.
"We are going on the assumption that he is still alive and we're going to find him," she said.
A spokesman for the bar pilots said they can't speculate on exactly how the accident happened.
"I guess there's an element of shock," said bar pilot Capt. Robert Johnson. "We're dealing as best we can with the issues we have to deal with right now."