Body of MMA Fighter Recovered from Willamette River after Fatal Kayaking Accident near Elk Island

The body of a professional MMA fighter who is believed to have drowned in a kayaking accident near Elk Island two weeks ago was recovered on Monday evening.

The Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office Marine Unit and Dive/Rescue Team recovered the body of Saul Gallegos Ruiz with “significant help” from Gene and Sandy Ralston, a married couple in their 70s who are among the country’s leading experts in underwater search and rescue operations.

The Ralstons, of Idaho-based Ralston Underwater Search and Recovery came to assist with the search effort at the request of Gallegos Ruiz’s family, after multiple search and rescue operations and dives had failed to recover the presumed drowning victim’s body.

The Ralstons are considered among the best underwater search and recovery specialists in North America, and have worked for agencies from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to NASA (they helped in the hunt for the wreckage of the space shuttle Columbia, which disintegrated on atmospheric entry in February 2003, killing all seven crew members).

The two former scientists have helped solve crimes and generations-old mysteries. Using their a boat outfitted with nearly $300,000 worth of radar, sonar and other specialized equipment, they have located more than 120 victims of drowning in lakes and rivers across the U.S. and Canada — many of whom were believed to be impossible to find.

The decision was made to send divers in the water at about 7 p.m. Monday to attempt the recovery. Divers were called to the Jefferson Boat Ramp in Milwaukie, where they were met by the Sheriff’s Office Marine Unit to take them to the dive location where the body was found.

The divers recovered the body at a depth of about 75 feet. The current added to the difficulty of the recovery, as did lighting conditions on the surface as the sun went down.

The Gallegos Ruiz family was aware of the search update, and at least 100 family members and friends were present at the Milwaukie boat ramp during the recovery operation.

A Clackamas County deputy medical examiner also responded to the scene. Positive identification of Saul Gallegos Ruiz’s body was made at the boat ramp.

Gallegos Ruiz was a 2013 graduate of Sandy High School who worked in sales at McLoughlin Chevrolet. He was also a mixed martial artist and jiu-jitsu specialist who had his first pro MMA fight last year — a bout that he won.

He was solo kayaking on the Willamette River around 4 p.m. Thursday, April 16, when his kayak flipped for unknown reasons. Several others who were on the river tried to assist, but were unable to locate him. He was not wearing a life jacket.

Oregon City police, West Linn police and Milwaukie police — who, in particular, have provided considerable support to Gallagos Ruiz’s family since his disappearance — all assisted the sheriff’s office in the complex search and recovery operation.

Photos courtesy the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office:

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