Boating mishap proves fatal for Bellingham man

A 72-year-old Bellingham man died of hypothermia following a boating mishap Friday near Sucia Island.

James Ableman and two other Bellingham men, out on the water collecting shrimp pots, had stopped to help a group on a nearby boat dislodge a pot snagged below the surface when their 17-foot Boston Whaler capsized about a quarter-mile off the southwest shore of Sucia Island, at about 2:30 p.m., according to the San Juan County Sheriff's Department.

The three men attached a line to the stubborn pot and were attempting to pull it up from a depth of about 300 feet, while under power, when the bow of their boat ducked under the surface and they were thrown into the water, according to the Sheriff's office.

All three men wore inflatable flotation devices at the time, but Ableman reportedly was unable to inflate his. Sheriff Rob Nou said Ableman was positioned in the very back of the Boston Whaler when it flipped over and the fact that he was wearing hip-waders may have contributed to .

"It's really very sad," Nou said. "It wasn't even their shrimp pot. They just stopped to help out."

All three men were in the water for about 10 minutes before boaters nearby were able to pull them in. Attempts to resuscitate Ableman proved unsuccessful. Emergency personnel from various federal, state and local agencies, including San Juan Island EMS, converged on the scene.

Ableman was pronounced dead at the scene.

The two survivors were treated for hypothermia at the medical clinic in Friday Harbor, and later released. The temperature of waters in the San Juans remains at about 50 degrees year-round.

Ableman's body was turned over to the county coroner, and the boat was righted and towed to Friday Harbor.

According to the Sheriff's Department, neither alcohol or drugs were a factor in the mishap. The incident remains under investigation by the Sheriff's Department and the U.S. Coast Guard.



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