As the search continues for a missing youngster along the Stanislaus River, the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department issued the following report on Wednesday, March 20.
Since early Monday morning, Sheriff’s Department Officials have been working with multiple state agencies to slow the flow of water from the New Melones Dam in an effort to lower the levels of the Stanislaus River to help in the search for five-year-old Matilda Ortiz. She slipped into the river around 5:00 PM on Sunday (3/17) and a search has been ongoing. Deputies and firefighters from Stanislaus Consolidated worked to locate Ortiz until around 9:00 PM Sunday until darkness made the conditions too unsafe. Helicopters were also used to search the river for the missing child.
The river flow was approximately 4200 CFS (cubic foot per second) on Sunday when Ortiz fell into the river. This makes the water very rapid and deep, which makes for potentially dangerous conditions. Rescuers continued to search on Monday while Sheriff’s officials worked with various state agencies to restrict the flow of water from the New Melones Dam. At one point on Monday, a Fire boat capsized due to the dangerous river conditions. Thankfully, nobody was injured.
Personnel trained in swift water rescue and recovery have continually been out on the river each day, but efforts have been hampered by the dangerous conditions. At midnight on Wednesday (3/20) officials began the process of reducing the flow of water from New Melones Dam. This will continue steadily throughout the day until sunrise on Thursday (3/21) when officials anticipate the river to be just below 2000 CFS which is over half of what it has been. The river flow can only be reduced until 4:00 PM on Friday (3/22) when they will have to begin releasing water from the dam again.
“This window of opportunity with a lower river flow will allow for more resources to help with the search,” said Sheriff Jeff Dirkse. “We have been working closely with our partners in public safety to put together a plan that will hopefully help us to locate Matilda Ortiz.”
The Sheriff’s Department will have several deputies on jet skis out on the river. In addition, the Sheriff’s Department Dive Team will be attempting to check the water as safety allows. The Sheriff’s Department Mobile Field Force has been activated to assist the resources out on the water and the helicopter and drones will be utilized as well. Stanislaus Consolidated Fire Department will be in boats and Oak Valley Ambulance crews will be there to assist in the event of an emergency.
Search teams will be meeting up at 6:30 AM to brief and plan to be actively searching until around 5:00 PM on Thursday. If needed, all of these resources will be deployed again on Friday until 4:00 PM when the water release from the dam is increased.
The Sheriff’s Department is requesting that citizens stay out of the area so that rescuers can focus on the task. There have been many reports on social media of people wanting to respond and assist in the search, however, there are concerns from officials that inexperienced citizens could fall victim to the dangerous waters.
“We have trained personnel utilizing many different resources to find Matilda,” said Dirkse. “While we appreciate people’s willingness to help, we are also concerned that it could hamper our search efforts.”
Rescuers will be coordinating with drones and helicopters for safety in the air. Rescue boats and jet skis will be coordinating with divers for safety on the water.
As a reminder, no motorized craft other than rescue vessels are allowed on the Stanislaus River east of the Highway 120 bridge in Oakdale. Officials also want to warn people to be prepared for the river to rise significantly after 4:00 PM on Friday when the water release from the New Melones Dam is increased back to normal.