Buena Vista Ferry

Inner tubers watch the Buena Vista ferry cross over the Willamette River on Sunday afternoon in Polk County. About a half-mile downstream, the search continued for a Washington state woman believed drowned after her inner tube flipped on Saturday.

The Polk County Sheriff’s Office continued its search on Sunday for a missing woman who disappeared while floating on the Willamette River near the Buena Vista Ferry the previous afternoon.

But the efforts have shifted from a rescue to a recovery.

The missing woman is Tracey Allen, 37, of Vancouver, Washington, who was with friends on the waterway.

The incident was reported at about 2:35 p.m. on Saturday, and Allen’s float tube flipped about a half-mile downriver of the ferry crossing.

A trio of inner tubes were tied together and ran into a large root ball snag, according to a Polk County Sheriff’s Office news release. Two women were able to scramble to safety on the west shore of Wells Island, and two more women were able to untie their inner tubes and avoid the root ball.

But Allen submerged and wasn’t seen again.

According to the news release, authorities believe that Allen was pushed by the current into a large debris field made up of trees and roots and that was substantial enough to hold her under water.

Allen knew how to swim and was wearing a life jacket, said Lt. Dustin Newman of the Polk County Sheriff’s Office.

“She did it how you’re supposed to do it, but sometimes the water is still unpredictable,” Newman said.

Newman added that the Willamette is cold and has a deceptively strong current, as well as hidden dangers such as submerged tree limbs that can snag swimmers, tubers and others in the water.

Those hazards have also hindered rescue efforts. A specially trained dive team from Clackamas County was called in to assist with the attempts to locate Allen.

“We need to make sure we’re slow and methodical so we’re not putting more folks in danger out there,” Newman said.

Despite the public safety activity, kayakers, floaters and others didn’t shy away from the Willamette on Sunday afternoon, and dozens of cars lined the road down to the ferry crossing.

The Benton County Sheriff’s Office and Albany Fire Department have been among the agencies to help with the multiagency response, and the Linn County Sheriff’s Office offered its assistance.

Albany fire personnel used a personal watercraft to retrieve the two women from Wells Island, but the strong current in the area overturned the craft, according to the news release.

The Oregon Parks and Recreation Department, the Marion County Sheriff’s Office, Polk County Fire District, the U.S. Coast Guard and Reach Air Medical Services also assisted with the efforts to locate Allen, according to law enforcement officers at the scene.

Kyle Odegard can be contacted at 541-812-6077 or kyle.odegard@lee.net.

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