What was hoped to be a rescue effort along the Stanislaus River at McHenry Recreation Area on Thursday, June 1 has turned in to what officials have now termed a recovery.
Escalon Fire Chief Rick Mello said the initial call went to the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Department, with a man reported floating in the water. Listed by authorities only as a 22-year-old man, he was at the river with a couple other people when he attempted to cross the swift flowing water. Mello said those with him indicated he apparently lost his footing when he reached a deep pocket in the river and was swept away, unable to get back to shore. They quickly called 911 and Escalon Fire also was notified of the incident.
“We received the call at 12:12 p.m.,” Mello explained. “He was last seen in the water near the first parking lot area of McHenry Rec.”
Mello responded, along with a crew on Engine 1-1 and the department’s Boat 1-1 rescue unit, putting in the water.
“We requested medics to respond and we also requested the dive team from Lathrop-Manteca Fire,” added the chief. “The Sheriff’s Department also got their boat in the water. They took the Lathrop-Manteca dive team out and they searched with their thermal imaging camera and sonar equipment.”
But the search efforts proved futile – despite several hours on the water on Thursday and returning to resume the search on Friday.
“We searched as far as Van Allen; there was a lot of debris in the river there that blocked our way,” Mello said of utilizing the rescue boat. “The Sheriff’s Department also had deputies along the river searching.”
A call went out to the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department for assistance as well, which brought in a search robot later Thursday afternoon.
Mello said the river is very dangerous right now, with the heavy snow finally melting and adding not only to the volume of water rushing down the river but also keeping the water temperature low.
“The river is posted,” he said. “It’s running fast, cold and high … we want people to stay out. This is a terrible tragedy that we’d sure like to prevent.”
And even while there are life jacket loaner programs in effect, the conditions on the river might not make it safe to enter for much of the summer, as the historic snowpack in the Sierra continues to melt.
“This is the third time already this season we have put in the boat,” Mello pointed out.
Searchers utilized all tools at their disposal during the effort but, as of press time, there had been no recovery.
It just points out the extreme danger right now, the chief said.
“We’re trained in swift water rescue,” he said of his firefighters, “and we don’t go out swimming in that water. People just need to heed the warnings … the flows are going to likely be high all summer.”
After the initial response, the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Department assumed responsibility for the ongoing search and recovery efforts.
“The search was continued Sunday,” Sheriff’s Department Public Information Officer Nick Goucher said on Tuesday morning. “It has now been suspended temporarily because the water is too treacherous to continue searching.”