'Killer Kern' River Claims 20th Live in 2011

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July 27, 2011 by   - () Leave a Comment

The upper Kern River in east central California is living up to its nickname – the "Killer Kern."

This past weekend, crews rescued a 14-year-old but could not save an adult who also got caught in the rapids, KMPH-TV, Fresno, reported.

So far this year, the Tulare County Sheriff's Department says at least eight people have drowned on their side of the Kern River, and on the Kern County side nearly a dozen people have drowned.

Many of the drowning victims entered the water near the Goldledge Campground in the Sequoia National Forest.

The waters looking inviting and calm, but just a few yards down, it quickly becomes class 3 rapids.

Tuesday (July 26), crews searched for another man who went under. They still haven't found his body.

Search and rescue crews use helicopters and rafts to scour the waters.

Many campers who stay at the Goldledge campground say they heard about the deaths, and are being extra careful.

"We're not using our rafts and getting out there like last year…cooling off close to shore here. But yeah, definitely some concerns," said Jeff Weiss, a camper.

The rapids gave the river its nickname, the "Killer Kern."

Signs are posted along the riverbank, but many still choose to take their chances.

For those willing to risk their lives and swim in the Kern River, deputies warn, wear a life vest.

And if you get caught in a rapid, go with the current, feet first.

"You're not going to be able to swim against this current, you have to use the current to push you to the side of the river. And that's what the 14-year-old who survived this past Sunday, that's exactly what he did, and that's what saved his life," said Lt. Chris Wenzinger with the Tulare County Sheriff's Department.

As for why so many people have died in the Kern River this year, deputies say alcohol, inexperience and plain foolishness are factors.

Deputies say those who choose to ride the river's rapids with a commercial rafting company are safer on the river than your average camper, because they're wearing life vests and helmets, and are with an experienced guide.

Deputies say this year, they've been able to rescue nearly three dozen people on the Kern River who could not safely get out of the river on their own.

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