Local teacher, fisherman loses life at sea

Teacher, coach and fisherman Bruce McKibbin found unresponsive near capsized boat

Coast Guard Caption: photo courtesy U.S. Coast Guard Pacific NW

Aug. 8, 2018 — On a routine flight between Newport and North Bend, pilots with the United States Coast Guard (USCG) Air Facility Newport noticed an overturned vessel just outside the North Jetty of the Siuslaw River on the afternoon of Monday, Aug. 6. After searching the area, USCG swimmers retrieved the unresponsive body of longtime Florence resident Bruce McKibbin, transferring him to medical personnel, where he was pronounced deceased.

Two USCG 47-foot motor lifeboat crews inspected the jetty for other possible survivors but found that McKibbin was alone on the vessel when it capsized.

McKibbin was known throughout the community as a coach, teacher, fisherman and mentor to many in the Florence area.

“We are devastated at the port,” said Port of Siuslaw Manager David Huntington, a longtime friend of McKibbin. “Bruce was a huge part of the local fishing community. He was not only a great friend of mine, he was a great friend and mentor to so many others who grew up in Florence.”

“He embraced life,” said retired Siuslaw School district teacher M.J. Church, who taught with McKibbin when she was first starting out as a teacher in the late 1980s. “I remember his passion. I thought of the students as little kids at the time, but he didn’t. His passion for their writing and symbolism and expression was so important to him.”

When McKibbin became the elementary school PE teacher, Church was amazed by his enthusiasm.

“He wouldn’t just tell kids how to square dance or how to use a parachute,” she said. “He was out there, having fun.”

McKibbin also coached for the school wrestling team the Little Toads.

“Little Toads was always such a great thing, and it just kept wrestling going in this community,” Church said.

The reason for the boating accident that led to McKibbin’s death is unknown.

The night before, conditions were flat and calm on the jetty, but by 10 a.m. there was a breaking wave on the bar that reached eight feet in height.

“That’s where we restricted the bar to all recreational vessels and all uninspected commercial vessels due to the occasional eight-foot break that we were seeing into the channel,” said MBC Kevin Smith, Executive Petty Officer with USCG Station Siuslaw River.

Warnings were broadcast by USCG through radio, but it is not known when McKibbin went out to sea, or from where.

“I’ve been in shock trying to figure out what could have happened,” Huntington said. “Bruce was very experienced on the water with tons of local knowledge about the ocean and bar crossings up and down the Oregon coast.”

He added, “The Siuslaw bar can be one of the roughest bars on the Oregon coast at times.”

Smith stressed that all boaters should monitor channels 16 and 22A for USCG broadcasts before venturing through the bar.

“When we have a restricted bar, we broadcast it every hour,” he said. “If you’re under the restriction, don’t go out.”

If one is passed the bar when the restriction is placed, Smith recommended calling the USCG on channel 16 to obtain the most up-to-date information on when the bar is anticipated to subside.

He also stated that boaters should wear life preservers at all times.

“Bruce will definitely be missed by all who knew him,” Huntington said. “It’s not going to be the same not hearing his voice on the marine radio giving out his GPS numbers of where he’s catching fish.

“All of our thoughts and prayers go out to his family at this time.”

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