SNELLING -- Friends and family members of two canoeists who went missing on the Merced River breathed a sigh of relief Monday morning after the pair were found safe by Merced County sheriff's deputies.
The canoeists, a 31-year-old woman and a 17-year-old boy, had left Henderson Park near Snelling about 7:30 p.m. Sunday and had arranged to meet friends at a bridge near Shaffer and Oakdale roads, just north of Winton, according to Deputy Tom MacKenzie.
When the pair didn't show up, their friends became concerned and notified law enforcement at 12:30 a.m. Monday. Deputies looked for the pair, but halted the search after several hours.
Deputies resumed the search at 6:30 a.m. Monday and the department's Huey helicopter eventually spotted them about 8 a.m. near Highway 59 and the Merced River near Hopeton.
Sheriff's officials said the pair did the right thing by pulling over their canoe, rather than continuing in the water, in the dark.
Still, officials say the case underscores the importance of water safety on the river.
Sheriff Mark Pazin said incidents on the Merced River tend to increase during the hot summer months, particularly if visitors fail to take proper precautions.
Case in point, one year ago sheriff's deputies and Merced Irrigation District officials closed a section of the river near Snelling after a June 30 rescue that spanned more than 10 hours.
During that ordeal, several members of law enforcement needed to be rescued after their boat capsized in the swift water upstream from Snelling. The following day, nearly a dozen more people required rescuing by law enforcement.
Pazin said his department hopes to avoid a repeat of last year's river closure.
"If people continue to be so cavalier and have total disregard for themselves and their friends, I will be talking to Merced Irrigation District and we collectively will shut down access to the river," Pazin said.
Mike Jensen, MID spokesman, said the water in the Merced River near Snelling is flowing about 220 cubic feet per second.
People should avoid rafting, swimming or inner-tubing in the Merced River, Pazin said, particularly because the water can be high and swift. The water is also cold, with an undertow, lots of brush and rocks beneath the surface.
"Even if you are a reasonable swimmer, that river is still wide," Pazin said.
Those who visit the river should do so in areas properly designated for water recreation, such as Henderson Park.
"I just don't advocate floating down the Merced River at all. It's dangerous and bad things can happen very quickly, as evidenced by this weekend," Pazin said.
Those who use the county's waterways, including experts, should make sure they have the proper safety equipment. Those who bring children should give undivided attention near water, whether it's a lake, pool or river.
Officials say people, particularly children, should avoid swimming in canals, which can be dangerous. Children can get free vouchers for the McNamara Pool by contacting the United Way, Jensen said.
City Editor Victor A. Patton can be reached at (209) 385-2431 or email@example.com.
Avoid rafting, swimming or inner-tubing in the Merced River. The water can be high, swift, and cold, with an undertow, lots of brush and rocks beneath the surface.
If you visit, use only areas properly designated for water recreation, such as Henderson Park.
Make sure you have the proper safety equipment.
Give children undivided attention.