Digest>Archives> May/Jun 2016

Drowned in Battle with Big Breakers


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Felix Henrix Bjorman Bearman. (Photo courtesy Jim ...

Felix Bearman, shown here, was one of three men who drowned on March 22, 1916 following a terrific battle with breakers, which apparently they had won, after a huge wave had capsized a small boat from the Lighthouse Tender Manzanita just inside Peacock Spit near the mouth of the Columbia River in Oregon.

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The U.S. Lighthouse Service Lighthouse Tender ...

A local Astoria, Oregon newspaper at the time gave the following account. “Three other members of the crew of the small boat were rescued after a thrilling experience at the mercy of the high tide. The dead are Felix Bearman, Thomas Anderson, and Tollak Kvale, all seamen and residing in Astoria. Their bodies had not been recovered, although the Point Adams Lifesaving crew under Captain Oscar Wicklund, and the Fort Canby crew under Captain Alfred Rimer, made an exhaustive search.”

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Undated photo, taken after 1915, of the crew of ...

Apparently the men were attempting to recover a gas buoy which broke loose from its mooring during a high gale. The newspaper went on to report, “As the men were securing a line to the buoy they were hit by a breaker and all of the men were thrown into the choppy sea. Officer Hagen of the Manzanita and Seaman Sandberg and Laakso, all of Astoria were rescued by the surfmen from the Fort Canby Life Saving Station, who had witnessed the accident.” (Although the newspaper story refers to the Fort Canby crew or Fort Canby Life Saving Station, they should have been stating that it was the Cape Disappointment Life Saving Station, which is the correct name.) “Bearman, Anderson, and Kvale had succeeded in reaching the overturned boat and had scrambled onto it when a second breaker struck them, carrying them away into the rough water.”

The rescued men were then taken back on board the Lighthouse Tender Manzanita and the vessel proceeded to Astoria so the captain could file his report with the Lighthouse Service.

We don’t know much about two of the men who drowned, but the third man, Felix Bearman, who was 23 years old when he drown, was the brother of Charley Bearman, who had also once served on the Lighthouse Tender Manzanita and was, at the time of the tragedy, an assistant keeper at Tillamook Rock Lighthouse, which is an isolated lighthouse off the coast of Oregon.

Charley Bearman said that, on the night of his brothers’ drowning, Felix had briefly appeared to him to say goodbye and that he would not be coming back. Charley Bearman thought it was dream of some kind until word reached the lighthouse a few days later that Felix had drowned. Shortly after the incident, Charley Bearman quit the Lighthouse Service, but at a later date he rejoined the Lighthouse Service and became the head keeper at the ill-fated Smith Island Lighthouse in Washington State.

This story appeared in the May/Jun 2016 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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