OAKHURST — What began as a fun spring outing of family and friends turned into a tragedy today when a man perished in the frigid, fast-moving water of Lewis Creek. Just after 11:30 a.m. this morning, first responders were called out to reports of two people having fallen into the creek just off River Falls Road, below El Cid restaurant at the end of Gamegan Way.
A family from Merced, along with some friends, were enjoying the sight and sounds of the cold, clear rushing creek when suddenly, according to those on scene, the mother slipped and fell into the fast-moving water. A male friend who had accompanied the family on the outing went into the water after the 32-year-old woman, and both parties became trapped beneath a waterfall.
Meanwhile, the three children, including two girls and a boy — ages 6, 12 and 14 — were standing by the road with their little black puppy. Along for the day-trip was a teenage friend of the kids, and an adult female friend of the mother.
Over two dozen first responders arrived on scene, and the incident moved into unified command with Cal Fire and Madera County Sheriff’s Office, and included assistance from Madera County Fire, Search & Rescue and Sierra Ambulance.
The victims initially appeared to be alert and responsive. The rope team arrived and began setting up to execute a high angle swift water rescue. Responders remained down on the rocks with the victims at all times, handing down heat packs to put under their armpits to help elevate body temperature. Fresno Sheriff’s helicopter Eagle One circled overhead, ready to assist as needed.
As the kids waited by the car for word of their mother, they were locked out of the vehicle. They were wet, cold, hungry and scared, and unable to get into the car for clothes or food. They were given blankets, and remained with the adult female friend about a quarter of a mile away from the scene. The children were tended to by Madera County Sheriff’s Community Service Officer Joann Evans.
Meanwhile, downstream about a hundred yards, another rescue team stood ready with a rope in place as part of a fail-safe rescue plan, in case one of the victims was swept into the current and carried toward them.
At 2:20 p.m. the mother was rescued from the water and transported via Sierra Ambulance to Batterson Station north of Oakhurst on Highway 41, where SkyLife Air Ambulance set down and airlifted her to a Valley hospital. She was conscious but very cold and in a lot of pain. Her condition is unknown at this time.
On the heels of this tragedy the sheriff’s office reminds everyone that with the recent rain, creeks and rivers are running high and fast.
“The water is cold and it is fast-moving,” says Commander Bill Ward, “and while it may look very inviting, it is extremely dangerous. Please use extra caution in and around waterways.”