Search continues for child swept into Kern River near Lake Isabella

Two days after a child was swept into the Kern River near Lake Isabella in Kern County, authorities are still searching for a sign of the missing youth.

Dispatchers were called around 2:18 p.m. Saturday about a child who was swept into the river near Keyesville, south of the lake, according to the Kern County Sheriff’s Office.

The child had been in the water for about 20 minutes before authorities were notified, deputies said Monday.

“Several juveniles went into the river in knee- to calf-deep water while an adult family friend supervised,” deputies said. “The juvenile slipped and fell into the river and the family friend jumped in after him.”

The search and rescue effort was continuing Monday evening, said Lori Meza, a Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman. A crew was slated to go out Tuesday morning if the child was not found by Monday night.

The child, whose age wasn’t available, slipped on a rock and was swept off by the current, Meza said. The adult who jumped in after the child needed to be rescued by authorities.

As that adult tried to save the child, the other children in the group had to make their way back to a larger group of adults to find someone who could call 911, she said.

Meza said having one adult supervising children playing in the river isn’t enough to guarantee safety.

A popular whitewater rafting destination, the Kern is known to be risky, especially in years with high snowpack levels in the mountains.

As temperatures climb in the spring and summer, the river swells with snowmelt from the Sierra Nevada. Swift, frigid water draws visitors with rafts and inner tubes.

Authorities warn it can take only four minutes to drown, and even less if the powerful current knocks someone against rocks or traps them in thickets of branches and roots along the riverbank.

The river contains many shallow areas with rocks that funnel water into narrow spaces where the current picks up, Meza said. The top of the river will look calm, but a powerful undercurrent easily pulls people in.

“It’s a very dangerous river,” she said. “A lot of our victims every year come from Los Angeles and San Bernardino County. It’s not a safe river to really be playing in.”

People shouldn’t get in the water if they don’t have to, and if a group includes children, there should be more than one adult present to supervise, she said.

All people who go in the river should wear flotation devices, such as life vests, Meza said.

Even in a year with reduced snowmelt, the river can easily live up to its nickname: the Killer Kern.

This year, with California gripped by drought, the mountain snowpack stood at just 38% of the long-term average this month.

Last week, Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered urban water suppliers to implement more aggressive conservation measures, requiring them to activate Level 2 of their local drought contingency plans to prepare for shortages.

But an extended drought and low snowpack don’t mean the Kern River is without risk, said Andy Bollenbacher, a forecaster with the National Weather Service’s Hanford office.

Bollenbacher echoed Meza’s warnings.

“That river is always hazardous,” he said.

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