The tragic death of 31-year-old Octavio Mendoza of Merced last Thursday, in the frigid waters of the Fresno River, is a grim reminder how quickly a fun, family outing in the great outdoors can quickly turn into a horrific tragedy.
Mendoza actually jumped into the water after his good friend, Mini Hernandez, slipped on the bank and fell in. The pair were pinned to the rocks by the fast moving water for more than two hours before members of the Madera County Sheriff’s Office Search & Rescue team were able to pull Hernandez out. Although shaken up and suffering from hypothermia, she used what little strength she had left to reach up and hug SAR team member Josh Cushing.
Hernandez was tough - tough like a mother who knew her three loving children were nearby, anxiously waiting for her.
Unfortunately, Mendoza was unable to hang on and slipped under the water shortly after Hernandez was pulled to safety.
With all the snow in the high country, this spring’s runoff is more than drought-stricken Eastern Madera County has seen in the past four years. Although a beautiful sight to see, the rushing water in rivers and creeks is extremely powerful and freezing cold. Add to that the slippery rocks and steep banks, and you have a recipe for a disaster.
According to the California Department of Public Health, in 2013 there were 122 drowning reports of California adults 18 years and older. And in a 10-year period, from 2004-13, nearly 1,300 adults in California lost their lives the same way.
Like other accidental deaths, a drowning is devastating to families and friends of the victim, changing their lives forever.
Public health officials are urging Mountain Area residents and visitors to the area to use extreme caution when around the rivers, creeks, and lakes of Eastern Madera County. The importance of using extreme caution and common sense around water this spring and summer can not be overemphasized.
Here are a few basic, but often overlooked, safety rules to follow this spring and summer.
* Temperatures are rising, but the water in area rivers, creeks, and lakes remains extremely cold, quickly causing hypothermia to anyone in the water.
* U.S. Coast Guard approved life jackets should be used even if you are a strong swimmer.
* Do not dive into the water. Jumping from cliffs or bridges is dangerous due to shallow water, submerged rocks, trees, or other hazards.
* Always swim with a buddy.
* Always supervise children closely. Do not read, play cards, talk on the phone, or engage in any other distracting activity while watching children in or around water.
* Avoid drinking alcohol before or during swimming or boating.
* Enroll yourself and your children in swimming classes. However, don't consider your children to be “drown-proof” because you enrolled them in an infant water-proofing class or swimming class. A child who falls into water unexpectedly may panic and forget learned swimming skills.
* Learn cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). Because of the time it might take for emergency services to arrive, your CPR skills can make a difference in saving someone’s life.
* If you become caught in a river current or fast moving water, roll onto your back and go downstream feet first to avoid hitting obstacles head first. When you are out of the strongest part of the current, swim straight toward shore.