BAKERSFIELD, CA - A sobering reminder to play it safe this Memorial Day from the Kern County Search and Rescue Team. On Friday, they updated the number on the sign leading up to the Kern River, adding another drowning from 2012.
The river is very low, but team members say that can be just as dangerous as when it's high. People become less intimidated and get into trouble and there are more exposed rocks.
The "Killer Kern" lived up to its infamous nickname in 2012.
267 people have died in the river since 1968. The latest was a man last July who lived along the river near Hart Part.
"Apparently, he fell in after he'd been drinking with friends," said Sgt. Ken Smith, Kern County Search and Rescue.
Search and Rescue teams updated the sign, as they do every year, as a safety reminder. Still, every year people get into trouble.
"The river is relentless," said volunteer, Bob Fallon. "It's not like the ocean where you have an ebb and flow of tides. The river constantly flows."
But, that flow is down. Rescuers say that's likely why they had only one death last year compared to nine deaths in 2011.
"In 2011, this same date, the Friday before Memorial Day weekend, the river was flowing at 3,800 cubic feet a second, which is basically like 3,800 basketballs flowing at you in a confined area in a second," explained Sgt. Smith.
Sgt. Smith said, in 2012, the river was down to 1,145 cubic feet per second. Today, it's flowing at 545 cubic feet per second.
The low flow still creates high risk. While the rapids aren't as raging, the current is still strong, and boulders once buried in water, are visible for rock hoppers.
"Our missions will be for people who have fallen off the rocks, hit their head, and either lost consciousness and drown or are so damaged and broken we have to get them across the river and up the side of the hill," said Sgt. Smith.
Their message is respect the river at all levels or our beautiful resource could turn ugly.
"That would be the best gift for any of us to have nothing go up on the sign and just talk about safety," said Fallon.
Rescuers say wear a life vest, helmet, and rubber shoes if you plan on getting in the river. And, never drink and swim.
Sgt. Smith says 98 percent of their victims are men. and about half of their victims are local.