By Jeremy Schwartz
Peninsula Daily News
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Clallam County sheriff's deputies and Quileute tribal fish and wildlife enforcement officers recovered the body of William Rusk, 79, on Thursday after he had been missing since March 21.
Rusk was last seen after his fishing partner, Mark Roler, 54, of Victoria, called 9-1-1 at about 5 p.m. March 21 to report that their unpowered drift boat was taking on water and being pushed down the swollen river.
Ron Cameron, the sheriff's chief criminal deputy, described the cause of death as “suspected drowning,” though an official determination will come from the county coroner.
Anthony Dongallo, Rusk's nephew, said in a phone interview from his office in California that Rusk was always happy to meet new people and told stories freely.
“You were always happy to see that man,” Dongallo said.
He said relatives of his were on the North Olympic Peninsula to spend time with Rusk's widow.
“It's still a shock for us. They'd only been there about a month or so,” Dongallo said. “We'll miss him drastically.”
Dongallo described Rusk as a “very interesting man” with a love of the outdoors.
“He was a little bit gung-ho,” Dongallo said. “He really lived a bold lifestyle.”
A Forks fishing guide spotted Rusk's body in about 6 feet of water shortly after 10 a.m. Thursday, Cameron said.
Sgt. Brian King with the Sheriff's Office's West End detachment said the body was found in a deeper, slower-flowing area of the river known as the “ice box” — a fishing hole at a bend in the river where a smaller creek flows in and forms an eddy.
A Quileute jet boat was launched from the Bogachiel River's Wilson Road ramp to make the recovery.
A sport fisherman found a life jacket confirmed as belonging to Rusk on March 22, and the submerged boat was retrieved by divers the next day, the Sheriff's Office said.
King said Rusk's body was found about 70 yards upstream from where the boat was recovered.
Rusk and Roler had put their boat in at the Bogachiel Way boat launch, just above the Bogachiel River's confluence with the Calawah River, when the strong river currents pushed the boat up against vegetation on the bank, causing it to take on water.
“There [was] a significant volume of water in the river from recent rains,” King said.
Roler was able to swim to shore, but Rusk stayed with the boat and was taken downstream with the current while clinging to a life vest, deputies were told.
King said he learned that the March 21 trip was the first time Rusk and Roler had attempted to navigate their boat.
“The very first time they had been on the river and the very first time they had attempted to navigate their boat,” King said.
He said all river boaters should familiarize themselves as much as possible with the rivers they plan to navigate.
“These rivers aren't to be taken lightly,” he said.
Reporter Jeremy Schwartz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5074, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.