Rafting Trip on Kern Has Tragic Ending
As soon as the raft hit a submerged tree, it flipped, tossing everyone into the frothy brown Kern River, made a torrent by the sudden, post-El Nino snowmelt of the High Sierra.
Five people and their guide swam to shore. But a 13-year-old from Boise, Idaho, disappeared. On Thursday, two days after the accident, search-and-rescue crews found the girl submerged beneath a log near the area where the raft capsized.
Branda Snow’s drowning was the first of a commercial rafter since outfitters started offering trips on the Kern River more than 20 years ago. Her death prompted Sequoia National Forest officials to call in the area’s rafting outfitters for a safety review.
“Because of the seriousness of this accident, we had to regroup and review procedures to see if we need to change anything that we’re doing,” District Ranger Judy Schutza said. “We had to do something. We issue the permits.”
The river is sometimes called “Killer Kern” because 195 people--mostly swimmers on the lower section of river near Bakersfield--have drowned in it over the past 30 years.
The forest service won’t shut down the river, about 50 miles east of Bakersfield, she said. That would imply somebody did something wrong.
“It’s tragic, but that’s the way it is with nature,” she said. “In the outdoors, you have risks.”
Snow took the rafting trip with Kern River Tours Inc., which along with Chuck Richards Whitewater, Outdoor Adventures and Whitewater Voyages hold permits with the Forest Service to raft the Kern.
Rick Richards, who owns Kern River Tours with his wife, Mary Jo, said outfitters automatically alter procedures when the water gets high.
“We’ve been canceling trips, culling people on the trips by age, putting fewer people in the rafts and being selective about who guides,” he said. “We’re already doing all of those things.”