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Capsized canoer rescued from freezing Rattlesnake Lake

A Renton man plunged into the near-freezing waters of Rattlesnake Lake Sunday afternoon, Jan. 2, to rescue a capsized boater.

Howard Hirshman said he was visiting the lake on a hike with his wife and dogs when he noticed a canoe in the lake, at around 2 p.m. A few minutes later, he said, "We saw somebody in front of the canoe in the water... he was actually trying to drag the canoe in."

A witness calling 9-1-1 reported that the man was about 20 yards from shore and about 100 yards from the boat launch, according to the incident report from Eastside Fire & Rescue.

Hirshman yelled to the man, asking him if he needed help, and then telling him to abandon the canoe and swim for shore. The man didn't respond for a long time, but kept trying to tow the canoe. "I think about 10 minutes had passed," Hirshman said. By this time, the man wasn't swimming, just floating Hirshman said. He had a life-vest on under his sweater.

Air temperatures had been in the 20s and 30s for several days before the incident, and the water, typically at 40 degrees in the winter, was near freezing. In those temperatures, exhaustion sets in within 15 minutes, and death from hypothermia is likely within 45 minutes.

Hirshman pulled off his shoes and coat, swam out to the man, and pulled him to shore, and to a waiting group of bystanders.

"There was, thankfully, a woman there who had a number of blankets," Hirshman said. People quickly stripped the man of his wet clothes and wrapped him in blankets. The man was so cold, he couldn't speak. Hirshman, wearing only pants and a T-shirt, decided to go home and warm up instead of waiting to see how the man was.

Gradually, the man recovered and the ambulance dispatched from Preston was cancelled.

Hirshman was thankful and amazed that he seemed to be all right.

"I was in the water for maybe three to five minutes, and this guy was in the water for 10 or maybe even 15 minutes, and I was cold!" he said.

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