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Deputies rescue five people from Merced River, near Snelling

SNELLING -- Merced and Mariposa County Sheriff's deputies pulled five people from the swift, frigid waters of the Merced River late Thursday evening and early Friday morning near Henderson Park, during a more than 10-hour operation filled with many tense moments.

The operation began Thursday afternoon when Merced County Sheriff's deputies received calls around 3 p.m. about two separate groups of people who'd fallen into the river in unrelated incidents. No one was hurt.

In the first incident, a raft overturned on the river and two people made it to shore, according to Deputy Tom MacKenzie, sheriff's spokesman. The sheriff's Huey helicopter had responded to the scene, and picked up the two rafters.

Meanwhile, about a mile away, three teenage males who'd been floating down the river on inner-tubes became stranded after getting stuck in trees on the water. Merced County Sheriff's deputies responded and pulled the teens aboard a boat. But the sheriff's boat shut down after the engine sucked in debris.

The boat drifted back and hit a tree. Water came over edge, and boat went over on its side. As a result, three Merced County Sheriff's deputies, a Mariposa sheriff's deputy and the three teens were dumped back into the water and marooned on a small island of trees and brush in the middle of the river.

Dozens of volunteers with the Merced and Mariposa Search and Rescue teams arrived to assist deputies. Around 11:45 p.m. the teams tied a rope to a raft, and one-by-one pulled each stranded person to shore, starting with the teens. The final deputy was pulled to shore on a kick-board tied to a rope around 1:30 a.m. Friday.

Pazin, who watched from shore during the late night rescue, breathed a huge sigh of relief after the last deputy was pulled to safety.

The incidents exemplify why people should to stay away from the county's waterways, Pazin said. "People are not paying attention. The water is cold, it's swift," he said. "The hot weather is melting all the snow pack. And we have warned everybody repeatedly: Do not get near this treacherous water. Nothing good comes of it."

Mariposa County Sheriff Doug Binnewies also expressed relief no one was hurt during the challenging situation. He hopes the public will take note about the dangers of being on the water. "With this high runoff that we're experiencing throughout the state, we really ask the public to be cautious," Binnewies said. "When they inadvertently step into harms way, it really put a lot of professionals at risk."

Mark Recasens, one of the teens rescued by the deputies, called 911 after he and his friends had become stuck in trees on the river. "We were in the trees for about, maybe almost two hours, by the time someone came and got us," the 17-year-old Atwater High student said, shivering from being in the cold water. "I was in the water, for maybe like a half an hour, and then climbed into the tree that was closest to me, and tried not to get swept up in the current."

Fresno County Sheriff's deputies also responded in their helicopter. Firefighters from CalFire also responded along with California Highway Patrol officers, who directed traffic around the area..

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