The search for two adults missing from a boat on the Columbia River ended Monday evening when the Umatilla County Sheriff’s Office confirmed the recovery of both bodies.
Sheriff’s Lt. Sterrin Holcomb said sonar equipment played the crucial role in finding the bodies of Janice Arsenault, 44, of Umatilla, and Trenton Williams, 20, from Idaho.
They went missing Saturday evening on the river near Bobby’s Beach, a small site along Highway 730 near milepost 195, after a caller reported two adults were no longer on a boat that pulled onto shore.
The Umatilla County Sheriff’s Office, Morrow County Sheriff’s Office and several other agencies responded soon after the call. Umatilla County Sheriff Terry Rowan said rescue boats from multiple agencies arrived that night to scour the water, and as word spread of the crisis, as many as 30 private boats participated.
“There was a tremendous number of resources out there Saturday evening until about 1 Sunday morning,” he said.
Law enforcement from nearby counties in Washington sent personnel. Teams walked the shoreline for any signs of Arsenault and Williams.
“It’s like looking for a needle in a haystack,” Rowan said, “only underwater.”
Searchers took a break Sunday night and resumed the effort in the morning. They returned again Monday morning. By that afternoon, Holcomb reported, the focus of the search became recovery efforts.
In June 2018, Arsenault became a volunteer firefighter for the Umatilla Rural Fire Protection District. The Hermiston Herald profiled Arsenault in September 2018 for the Three Minutes feature.
She revealed she lost her health care job in Las Vegas in 2008 and moved to Umatilla because she has family there. She worked as an office specialist at Blue Mountain Community College. She loved sushi and in her spare time enjoyed hanging with friends and riding her Harley-Davidson motorcycle. Arsenault said she was working toward the completion of an associate’s degree.
Holcomb said the sheriff’s office did not have much information about Williams but was able to get notices to relatives of the missing about the situation.
Information about what happened remained sketchy.
The driver of the boat, Richard Kirkendall, 41, of Hermiston, reported Arsenault and Williams had been riding on the dive step of the boat while he was driving to shore, according to the sheriff’s office. Kirkendall noticed they were missing when he arrived on shore. Rowan said it appears the two adults lacked life jackets.
The size of the effort scaled down after the initial frenzy of the search, Holcomb explained, but the work remained methodical.
Airplanes conducted an aerial search along the shallow shorelines where boats could not gain access. Umatilla County Fire District members and volunteers searched along the shoreline. Teams reported the water was “pretty murky,” according Holcomb. She also said the Columbia Basin Dive Rescue of Richland, Washington, provided a towable side-scan sonar to help search the bottom of the river. The sensitive equipment provides valuable information, she said, and dive teams will investigate objects of interest that show up on the sonar.
Holcomb said the team found Williams’ body at 8 p.m. and Arsenault’s body shortly before 8:30, both in the area of Bobby’s Beach. Their remains were transported to a funeral home Monday night, accompanied by emergency vehicles.