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Swift Water In Lewis Creek Claims A Life

Mar 24 swift water rescue OakhurstOAKHURST — 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.

Mar 24 swift water rescue II OakhurstMeanwhile, 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.

Mar 24 swift water rescue IV OakhurstA Mt. Bullion crew arrived with sandbags and handed them down to rescuers in an attempt to stem the flow of water through the channels that led to the spot where the victims were trapped.

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.

Mar 24 swift water rescue III OakhurstMeanwhile, 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.

Mar 24 swift water rescue V OakhurstThe male friend who had attempted to rescue the woman was pronounced deceased at the scene at approximately 3 p.m. His exact cause of death 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.”

We are not including the name of the family pending notification of relatives.Mar 24 swift water rescue VI Oakhurst

Mar 24 swift water rescue VII Oakhurst


One comment

  1. I’m familiar with this location and at one time long ago used to (attempt) to teach law enforcement “Search and Rescue” types how to do this stuff. They are generally poor at improvisation and making critical judgments at the required rate. They seem confused without direction and a formal structure. Though they do an acceptable job of running around in the woods finding lost hunters, contrary to popular opinion they are not competent with technical matters. Few, if any are experienced technical climbers. Mostly they dress up for the event, official looking red helmets and all, play with the equipment, talk on radios and then maybe have a press conference afterwards looking serious and congratulating each other on their bravery and good judgment.

    In the present case, it’s hard to imagine, (absent my description above), why it would take more than THREE HOURS to get somebody out of Lewis Creek ANYWHERE. The creek is not in flood (as of an hour ago anyway) and is not particularly fast flowing. The “waterfall” is actually more of a cascade. A competent technical climber with minimal equipment, working alone, could have had them out in 15 minutes. ‘Even easier with a couple of people to help.

    In contrast these guys called in helicopters, numerous agencies “rope teams” etc etc etc. They apparently even tried to dam the mighty Lewis Creek! (Maybe it took time to get a permit for that). A “unified command structure”? Is that agency-speak for “Deputy Jones took charge and we decided he would be the best speaker at the the press conference”?

    They didn’t give the cause of death. My guess is hypothermia or something related to it. Three hours of cold immersion is a long time.

    Tragic, incompetent, unnecessary.

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