SNELLING -- Four rafters who spent the night on an isolated bank of the Merced River near Snelling were rescued by the Merced County Sheriff's Department on Monday morning.
Sheriff's Deputy Ed Katen said the rafters entered the river from Henderson Park on Sunday afternoon, but soon lost their raft when it overturned in the water. The group made it to the opposite side of the river, but couldn't get back across, Katen said. "The water is too dangerous, so they spent the night on the island," Katen said. Family members reported them missing when they didn't return home Sunday night.
Merced County search-and-rescue team members began searching early Monday morning. The group was spotted by an aircraft during the search. Rescuers entered the river at a bank about three miles east of their location, and guided the rafters home along the riverbank.
Sheriff Mark Pazin said rafters and others need to be mindful of water safety, particularly this time of year. Pazin also mentioned two drownings were reported this weekend in Fresno and Madera counties. "The waters are just treacherous this time of year with the runoff. The current is very swift and the water is very cold," Pazin said. "Fortunately all four people did not drown."
The rafters are family members, two of them from Winton and two from San Jose. The group included a 34-year-old man and three women, ages 21, 24 and 29.
Katen said the group was inexperienced at rafting, and they weren't wearing lifejackets. They suffered some bumps and scratches, but rescuers didn't observe any major health problems, Katen said.
The Merced River is swollen with spring runoff from the Sierra, meaning the cold water is running high and fast, Katen said.
-- Brandon Bowers