Ashland wrestling coach saves Klamath River tourist

There is often tension between Yurok gill netters and recreation anglers at the mouth of the Klamath River during the fall chinook run. But thanks to Ashland High School wrestling coach Bill Bowers, those tensions disappeared for a brief spell last week when he rescued a boy who had fallen in the river and was carried out into the ocean.

"The look in his eyes when I grabbed him, I'll never forget," Bowers, a Yurok who has been living in Ashland for 20 years, said. "There has always been friction between the native and non-native fishermen, but for at least one moment, the common goal was to save someone's life."

Bowers was fishing on the south side of the Klamath River, the side the Yuroks fish from, and on the north side of the Klamath was 13-year-old Hunt Conrad, the Oregon boy who slipped into the water.

"The kid got washed off by a wave and they couldn't do anything because of the outgoing tide," Bowers said. "His dad jumped in after him."

Bowers said hundreds of people on the north bank watched Conrad get tugged out to sea by the current. There was a guide boat nearby that couldn't navigate swift currents separating the river from the ocean to get to him.

But Jake Jones, a Yurok, was nearby in an 18-foot river boat. When he got word that a fisherman was in danger, he pulled up to the south bank to pick up Bowers and together they braved the breaking waves to try to save the boy.

"You just do it," Bowers said. "All I knew was there was a kid in the water, and I have five children. I've never been involved in something so intense."

The most difficult part of the rescue, Bowers said, was navigating the waves and current. Another boat also went out for Conrad, but was capsized on a sand bar. Bowers and Jones made it through and first went for the father, who was swimming after his son.

"He said, 'get my boy first.'" Bowers said. "We came up over another wave. When we dropped over the top of it, there was the kid. I don't even know where I grabbed him but I threw him in the boat."

Bowers and Jones brought the boy and his father back to shore, and although he hasn't heard from either since, he said he believes it will help ease tensions between the two user groups.

"It did for five minutes," Bowers said. "I want that to happen, but do I think it will happen, I can't answer that."

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