Church seeks prayers as boy, 6, sought

Search goes on after half-brother's death in Yosemite

The Associated PressAugust 18, 2012 

YOSEMITE -- Every year for a quarter century, the congregation of Calvary Chapel East Anaheim has traveled to the Sierra Nevada foothills for a spiritual family retreat.

This year, the church members are leaning heavily on their faith after a 10-year-old drowned and his 6-year-old half-brother remained missing Friday after being swept away by the Merced River during a side trip to Yosemite National Park.

"I hope people will pray for us and pray for those precious little boys," pastor Maury Evans said Friday.

Andrew Adams died and his half-brother Jacob was presumed dead, though searchers planned to continue their work through the weekend. Their mother, Char-Lee Hargis Adams of Yorba Linda, was injured trying to save them and was recovering at a hospital with the tight-knit church's senior pastor at her side.

It's the second time in just over a year that a tragedy has befallen members of a church during an outing to the Merced River. A year ago, three friends from Modesto, Turlock and Manteca were swept to their deaths when they fell into a pool above Vernal Fall, on the same hiking trail where the Adamses were hiking.

The park gets 4 million visitors a year, and 2,000 people a day hike the Mist Trail, which leads to the waterfall where the Merced River -- nicknamed the Voice of Yosemite -- makes its spectacular descent into the valley.

August is the low-water season, but the river still is deceptively fast. The granite boulders that line the bed and banks, some as large as houses, are as slick as ice when wet. Last year, it took months to find the bodies of two of the people who went over the fall and ended up trapped under rocks.

Deceptively calm

The river falls 317 feet straight down to a narrow gorge, then descends an additional 400 feet by the time it reaches a footbridge. The water is calm at the edge, but it is forceful as it cascades over and around boulders down the steep canyon.

In 2011, heavy winter snow left Vernal Fall pounding into the autumn. Though the fall never dries completely, it's much slower after a dry winter.

"Last year, when the three went over the waterfall, we were unable to do any diving until several months later," park spokeswoman Kari Cobb said. "This year, we've already put rangers in the water."

Yosemite National Park is a wilderness area, so officials place signs only at trailheads to warn of potential dangers on the trail. Often, visitors unfamiliar with the area don't realize that the beauty of natural features can mask danger.

The mother and her young sons had stepped into the water below the Vernal Fall footbridge on Wednesday to cool off on a day when the temperatures were in the 90s. Somehow, the boys ended up in whitewater about 15 feet from the banks and were carried away.

Another park visitor plucked Andrew from the water about 150 yards downstream and performed CPR for 30 minutes until rangers arrived and continued the lifesaving efforts, to no avail. His brother disappeared.

"We are grieving, I'm grieving. We have a lot of things that happen in the church that at times just rock you," Evans said. Many of the church's 3,000 congregants have called, asking how they can help the family, he said.

Friday, more than 15 park operatives, including law enforcement rangers and members of the search-and-rescue team, descended on a mile-long stretch of the river where they believe Jacob's body might be lodged. Some divers were in the water exploring crevices. Others were on the trail telling visitors about the tragedy.

"It's an opportunity for us to give safety messages," Cobb said. "This is an extremely rough portion of the Merced River, probably the roughest in all of Yosemite."

The family was staying at Sugar Pine Christian Camps in Oakhurst near the south entrance to Yosemite National Park. At least 100 other members of the congregation were there for an annual retreat the church has organized since its inception.

"They have Bible studies, time for fellowship and just take time to enjoy God's beautiful creation," Evans said.

The camp is about an hour's drive from Yosemite Valley, where most of the park's visitors are drawn to experience towering waterfalls spilling over 3,000-foot granite cliffs. The Adamses decided to go to Yosemite on Wednesday; many others in the group chose an outing to nearby Bass Lake.

"It's such a beautiful place, and we feel close to God there," Evans said.

Cobb said there's no way to tell how long the search might take, but crews plan to look until they find Jacob.

"At this point, we don't know," Cobb said. "They're just continuing, and hoping to find him."

Modesto Bee staff writer Patty Guerra contributed to this report.

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