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Two missing rafters prompt search effort on Stanislaus River

Two rafters on the Stanislaus River ended up missing over the weekend after they floated past the point along the river where they intended to get out and drifted miles further – tying up resources as Ripon Consolidated Fire District personnel searched for the two young men.

They were eventually found near a house off of Manteca Road.

According to Ripon Battalion Chief Marty Cornilsen, the two young men started on one end of Caswell Park and intended to float down to Willow Beach before getting out. When they missed the point – a common occurrence during the summer months when the river is flowing very slow and requires large sections to be walked – they eventually realized their mistake and got out and walked towards Manteca Road and Avenue D where they were able to contact family members who were in touch with fire personnel.

At that time the department was using a drone to search along the banks of the river for any trace of the rafters.

“It was more of a search that it was a water rescue,” Cornilsen said. “When you miss the last beach in Caswell, the next spot to get out is basically Two Rivers and it can take hours to make it down that far – especially when the river is as low as it is.”

This summer has been an especially busy one for Ripon fire personnel when it comes to responding to the plethora of calls that have come in about the Stanislaus River – from people who saw individuals jump into the river from a bridge, like at the start of the summer, to groups of minors that miss their exit point and end up hours overdue to get home.

Just recently Cornilsen said that he responded to a call about three 15-year-old young men from Stockton that entered the river at around 2 p.m. and intended to float to a point on the map that looked close enough to cover in a day. After more than 5 hours on the river they still hadn’t reached their destination and chose to get out and walk along the levee until they found a place they could call for help – their cell phones were long dead, another common occurrence, and they had no clue where they were at.

While Cornilsen said that the agency will always respond to calls when somebody needs help, the sheer number of those recreating on the river this summer has led to drains on the department’s resources and made it difficult for the agency to provide the coverage necessary for the area it is supposed to protect.

Last month Ripon Fire Chief Dennis Bitters said that the agency is looking into the possibility of billing the people that they have to go find as a way to recuperating the expenses associated with the rescue and providing a deterrent for those unprepared for outdoor recreation – often getting into the snag-filled river with floating pool toys that sometimes fail within minutes of hitting the water.

“No matter what happens – if somebody calls us, we’re doing to respond,” Cornilsen said. “But sometimes that takes resources from other places.”

To contact reporter Jason Campbell email or call 209.249.3544.