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SAR Teams Demo Swift Water Rescues In Yosemite

SAR personnel throwing a rope line during a practice swift water rescue. Photo courtesy NPS

YOSEMITE — The Merced River pushes past spectators with enormous gusto, as temperatures rise and the annual spring runoff causes rivers and creeks to run very high. This cold and swiftly moving water creates a hazard even for the strongest of swimmers.

In the past decade there have been 22 water-related fatalities within Yosemite National Park, according to authorities. Many people who end up in the water never intended on getting in, they say. Even a slow current can take you where you may not want to go.

This week, personnel from Yosemite’s Search and Rescue (SAR) jumped in the Merced River to practice their swift water rescue skills in order to convey a crucial message to the visiting public: stay safe out there.

Blurred motion shot of SAR personnel practicing a rescue swimmer rescue in swift water. Photo courtesy NPS

Each year, according to the park’s water safety page on the web, 15 to 20 visitor rescues are directly associated with unprepared victims finding themselves in the water either on purpose (swimming, boating, rafting) or accidentally (falling while hiking, crossing streams, scrambling on rocks). Water-related accidents are said to be the second most common cause of death in the park (motor vehicle accidents are the first).

The water is frigid — it takes your breath away instantly — and the river is running high, with much greater volume than usual due to the heavy snow pack last winter. The biggest mistake people make is to underestimate the power of the river and over-estimate their own abilities.

      • Protect yourself from becoming a victim of swift water by staying out of rivers and creeks and off of rocks adjacent to rivers.
      • Be realistic when assessing the risk of getting close to or crossing a waterway.
      • Follow posted signs.
      • Ask yourself, what is the worst possible outcome if I were to lose my footing?

Click here for more water safety info from Yosemite National Park.

SAR personnel watching a practice rescue while being filmed. Photo courtesy NPS

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