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Another Person Drowned In 'Killer Kern' River This Weekend, Marking Eighth Casualty Since March

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(Photo courtesy of Kern River/Facebook)
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Kern River, about a hour-and-half north of Bakersfield, has been a popular destination for whitewater rafting enthusiasts. This year, however, the river has taken on new life, as a record snowpack (brought on by the recent rainy season) has helped pump in a large influx of water.

This has led to especially treacherous conditions, with the water becoming colder and the currents moving at a faster pace; eight people have died on the river since March, with one of the victims suffering a heart attack, according to the L.A. Times.

Just this past weekend, two people have gone missing and one was confirmed dead, reports the Associated Press. According to The Bakersfield Californian, the fatality happened after a man and his cousins were spotted jumping from rocks into the river near Keyesville. The party was warned by Forest Service officials to stop leaping into the water. The cousins got out of the river, but one of the men leaped back in after the officials had left the area; he drowned after the current drew him out into the main channel where he was submerged underwater. Furthermore, officials confirmed on Saturday they'd discovered the body of Michael Ramirez, an Orange County rapper who was swept away by strong currents about a week ago while he was swimming in the river, reports OC Weekly.

Sergeant Zach Bittle of the Kern County Sheriff’s told KPCC that the department currently recommends for people to avoid the water. “It’s just so much more dangerous than it’s been in years past,” said Bittle. “We’re encouraging people not to go in the river." He added that the river currently holds 10 to 12 times the amount of water it usually gets.

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Kenny Bushling, owner of Kern River Tours, told LAist that the previous years of drought, which led to relatively tamer conditions, may have brought on a false sense of security for visitors. "People may say, 'I've been doing this for the last five years.' They may think the water's calm, and it may look like it, but there's a moving current in there," said Bushling.

As reported at the Times, the dangerous conditions at Kern River have had some effect on local business, as they have provoked some people to cancel their reservations with rafting tours (while the Sheriff's Department has warned people to stay out of the water, they've vetted the use of rafting tours, according to the Times). "On several occasions we've had people call and say, 'Hey, we heard the river is too dangerous,' and cancel their plans," said Bushling, adding that Kern River Tours and the other local rafting companies have precautions set in place. "We have the training and the equipment. We have rescue techniques. We have throwback ropes," said Bushling. "We can't promise that a boat won't flip, but we're prepared for all scenarios."

Bushling added that, while the river is especially dangerous this year, the precautions that one should take are generally the same as from previous years. "There's always been warnings. And the two biggest contributing factors are no lifejacket, and alcohol," said Bushling. "You'll need a lifejacket, and I'm not talking about one of those little horseshoe ones you get at Wal-Mart. You'll need a type-five, lifeguard-approved device. I'm a pretty good swimmer but I wouldn't last very long without a proper lifejacket."

He adds that he expects conditions to wind down for the rest of the summer season, as the "water is going down and the river has peaked," but emphasizes that the proper protocols still must be observed. "You can enjoy the river if you're doing it right, but it'll let you know very quickly when you're doing it wrong," said Bushling.