Search and Rescue urges river safety

By Ashley Fike
Kern Valley Sun

Photo by Ashley Fike / Kern Valley Sun
Kern County Sheriff Search and Rescue Sergeant Steve Williams, at podium, addresses the media regarding the dangers of swimming in the Kern River without proper preparation with one of the Kern River’s most turbulent sections as a backdrop. Kern Valley Search and Rescue Captain Brian Baskin stands to the left of Williams, while Bakersfield Search and Rescue volunteers look on from the right.

The Kern County Sheriff’s Office held a press conference on Thursday, June 27, to update the public on the ongoing search for swimmers missing in the Kern River and to warn of the dangers of this year’s swift water.

According to Kern County Sheriff’s Office PIO Angela Monroe, 96 people have perished in the Kern County portion of the Kern River since 2000. Fifty-two of them were Kern County residents, while 39 were from other locations, with the hometowns of the remaining decedents unavailable.

Five people have been swept away in this year’s high water in June alone. A 36-year-old Los Angeles man died after jumping from his boat into Isabella Lake on June 9. Two teenage males, ages 16 and 19, from the San Bernardino area, jumped into the river at the Keysville Recreation Area and were lost on June 16. A body found later was identified as 16 year old Ivan Esquivel. An 11-year-old girl from the Bakersfield area was lost near Keysville as well, and a 31-year-old man was lost after entering the upper river on an inner tube.

None of those lost were wearing personal flotation devices (PFDs) and are presumed dead.

Kern Valley Search and Rescue Captain Brian Baskin noted that anyone recreating in the area this summer should always wear a PFD if there is any chance they will be near the water.
Baskin stressed that one need not be planning to enter the water to protect themselves – the 11-year-old girl lost to the river last week slipped and fell in before being swept away.

“We can’t stress enough how dangerous this is,” said Baskin.

Some areas of the river are currently too turbulent for even Search and Rescue volunteers to navigate.

Along with the hundreds of volunteer hours already put into this month’s searches, Baskin said that volunteers have been making contact with visitors to make sure they understand the hazards of the river.

“We take this very personally, very seriously,” said Baskin.

Baskin and Kern County Search and Rescue Sergeant Steve Williams specified that the “Killer Kern” nickname for the river is misleading, and that safety usually comes down to personal responsibility.

“Usually, there are causes behind all of the reasons people end up in the river,” said Baskin.

“It really comes down to individual choice and preparation,” confirmed Williams, noting that there are many, much safer ways to enjoy the Kern River, such as with rafting outfitters.
Baskin also noted that Kern Valley Search and Rescue, as an all-volunteer organization, is always in need of help.

For more information on how to volunteer with Kern Valley Search and Rescue, contact (760) 417-0450.