The summer of 2017 marked one of the deadliest seasons in Kern River history. And traditionally search and rescue officials say that Memorial Day weekend is a holiday with several rescue call-outs.
So far this year officials say there have been three or four rescues in the Kern River, the first victim was in January. This Friday Search and Rescue will update their sign at the mouth of the canyon that keeps track of the number of deaths.
Officials say 13 people have died in the Kern River since last Memorial Day. “That’s a huge number…it’s a number we haven’t seen since 1985,” said Sergeant Zack Bittle with the Kern County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue Unit. The sign will be updated by the Kern County Sheriff’s Department on Friday, bringing the total number to 293 people who have died in the river since 1968.
Sergeant Bittle says the river is down compared to last year. “We measure the flow in cubic feet per second and cubic foot is about a basketball and if you can imagine a thousand basketballs going by you every second that’s about the flow that we’re at right now,” said Sergeant Bittle.
Last year at this time the river was close to 5,000 cubic feet per second. And as the summer goes on officials are expecting less water to come into Hart Park. However officials say no matter the flow the water is still swift and dangerous. Sergeant Bittle says that after about four or five minutes of being underwater the chances of survival are minimal. “When the current’s really high and really strong, it doesn’t matter how good a swimmer you are you’re not gonna be able to get away from an undertoe if it’s got you,” said Bittle.
Sergeant Bittle also says Memorial weekend is a time when many decide to get in the river; and this weekend crews are expecting no different at Hart Park with the warm weather enticing more park goers to jump on in. “I’m expecting rescues. I think we’re gonna have a lot of people out here this weekend and I think we’re gonna end up doing some rescues,” said Bittle.
Volunteer search crews say they’re ready. “Every holiday weekend we have two major swift water rescue teams that set up close to the river in the event of a river rescue,” said Bittle, “I don’t wanna rescue anybody out of the river. I would hope that everybody goes out safe.”
Sergeant Bittle says that people should always take caution around any body of water, but for those who want to enjoy natural bodies of water they should head to Lake Isabella, Lake Ming and Buena Vista Recreational Areas as those bodies tend to be safer.