The Mariposa County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue team along with the California Highway Patrol Air Support Division and Bureau of Land Management Rangers have been working all weekend to locate a missing swimmer.
The Sheriff’s Office was informed at 3:45 p.m. on Friday, June 23, of a missing swimmer who jumped into the river at approximately 2:45 p.m. and had not been located.
Sheriff’s deputies, along with Search and Rescue teams arrived on scene and learned that Ronnie Ray Cole, 19, of Mariposa had gone to the Briceburg area of the Merced River to swim. Ronnie and two female friends went to the area known as “Cable Beach,” approximately 1.5 miles from the Briceburg Visitor Center.
Ronnie jumped into the water wearing blue jeans and black shoes. Witnesses stated after Ronnie jumped in the water he surfaced and was swimming towards the shoreline when they lost sight of him. The two female friends then got in their vehicle and attempted to locate Ronnie downstream before contacting authorities.
Members of the Search and Rescue Swift Water Team along with several other members of the Sheriff’s Office and two Sheriff’s Office Chaplains arrived on scene to assist. Search and Rescue volunteers, along with a BLM Ranger, began their search from the point Ronnie was last seen in the water, searching down river looking along the bank, in eddies and strainers.
CHP Helicopter H40 also was dispatched to the area to begin an aerial support search of the fast moving river.
According to the Dreamflow website, the Merced River was flowing below the Briceburg area at 7,750 cubic feet per second and the water temperature was estimated in the low 50s.
The search continued until sundown with negative results. Search members were called back during the dark hours because of the safety concerns due to steep rocky terrain and the dangerous fast moving water.
Early morning Saturday, June 24, the search for Ronnie resumed. Several Search and Rescue teams along with BLM Rangers took to kayaks and rafts while others walked the banks.
Mariposa County Boating Safety Units also assisted in the Search in the Bagby Area of Lake McClure. A drone was utilized as well to check the calm areas of the water from Cable Rock to the gate at the end of River Road.
Sunday, June 25, an additional report of a missing person was reported to our office. An adult male acting as a private citizen member of Ronnie Cole’s family was attempting to search for Ronnie on his own. Jason Kienzle, 35, of Mariposa, was last seen by family on June 24 at 10 a.m.
CHP Air support H-70 was contacted for assistance and was able to locate Kienzle at 1 p.m. Kienzle refused assistance by the CHP helicopter. A Mariposa County Sheriff’s Sergeant flew into the area where Kienzle was located and contacted Kienzle, but he refused assistance and stated he was fine. The Sergeant left Kienzle several bottles of water and food.
The search mission for Ronnie continues, however, has been considerably scaled down, according to the Sheriff’s Office.
(Photos Mariposa County Sheriff’s Office)