Douglas County Sheriff’s deputies are no longer actively searching for the body of 63-year-old Gary Rillera of Tonasket, in the Columbia River near Bridgeport.
On the afternoon of Saturday, Sept. 4, the Sheriff’s Office received a report of a missing fisherman near Bridgeport. According to Paul Cheng of Renton who was with Rillera when they were fishing approximately one mile west of Bridgeport in the Columbia in a 10 foot motorized inflatable boat. Due to high winds and rough waters, they decided to return to Marina Park in Bridgeport. Cheng felt the boat shift and turned to see that Rillera, who was not wearing a life jacket, had fallen into the water. Cheng tried to throw a life jacket to Rillera but was unable to get it close to him. Unfamiliar with boat operations, Cheng then tried to turn the boat around to retrieve Rillera but was unable to locate him once he’d turned the vessel around.
Private citizens assisted the Douglas and Okanogan County Sheriff’s marine units to locate Rillera. The rough water and high winds hampered the search and it was called off around 11 p.m. The family of the missing man was notified by Douglas County Sheriff’s deputies and the search resumed on the morning of Sunday, Sept. 5. The area of highest concentration was approximately one mile from Bridgeport’s Marina Park boat launch.
“Historically, we usually recover bodies from the river becausee they come back up but how long that takes depends on the water temperature and the general weather,” Don Culp, Douglas County undersheriff, said. “Diving for a victim in the Columbia River is almost impossible because the current is too strong.”
Culp added that though active searching is no longer being done, the sheriff’s office will be sending a boat out every few days at the most in order to recover Rillera’s body.
This is the second confirmed missing person from the Columbia River area this year in south Okanogan County. In late May, Ambrose Sorano-Florencio, 48 of Pateros was reported missing after driving his vehicle into the Methow River and was later recovered at Wells Dam. Still missing is Roy Groeneveld of Bellingham. Groeneveld was attending a family funeral when he was reported missing in late July, the Columbia River and its banks were thoroughly searched but his whereabouts are still unknown.
The Douglas County Sheriff’s Office would like to remind boaters to watch for water conditions and always wear life jackets while boating.