Special Reports

Caisson odd hero in rescue

Four days after the successful maneuvering of the first giant foundation for the new Tacoma Narrows bridge, caisson construction might have saved three men - and two dogs.

A hurried rescue by Tacoma Narrows Constructors employees, working on the $849 million suspension bridge's caisson, proved fortunate on a dismal night that might have seen fatalities.

Names of the three men and two dogs were unavailable Saturday night. But Pierce County Sheriff's Department and Coast Guard officials had a tale to tell.

The men and their dogs were jammed into a 22-foot boat for a jaunt into the often turbulent Narrows on a breezy, rainy and chilly Friday night.

"The boat came out of Gig Harbor and had mechanical failure when the engine room flooded," said Coast Guard spokesman Mike McKernan.

"They were out for a quick cruise," said Sheriff's Department spokesman Ed Troyer. "The boat was overloaded, and it started to sink.

"They got into a dinghy, but it capsized in the water."

Fortunately the men and dogs were within paddling distance of the 33,000-ton caisson that had been submerged Monday to support a 510-foot tower on the new bridge's Gig Harbor side.

Bridge workers called for help. It arrived on the 34-foot launch Reliance, the sheriff's department's vessel stationed at Day Island.

"The men were chilled and wet," Troyer said, "but they were all OK. One of the dogs had to be revived. Nearly didn't make it. I hear he's OK now."

The quick jaunt was nearly fatal. It offers a lesson, Troyer said.

"You can't live long in that (cold) water without proper protection," Troyer said. "If there hadn't been people working on that caisson, there would have been nowhere for these guys to go.

"They would have had serious issues."

Evidence of the rescue remained Saturday night.

On the Gig Harbor Peninsula shore, about a mile south of the bridge, the 22-foot boat lay beached.

Bart Ripp: 253-597-8678