Neighbor recalls watching traumatic swift water rescue


TEHAMA COUNTY, Calif. - The Tehama County Sheriff's Office continued searching for a man they presume is dead.

Late Friday night, on Saron Fruit Colony Road, three people were canoeing home when the canoe overturned.

Seth Lawrence, a neighbor, said another neighbor heard the three people yelling for help and called 911.

Lawrence and the others came down to the creek bank to see if they could help.

"It was very traumatic for everybody," he said. "You feel terrible listening to someone call for help and being unable to get to them". Lawrence recalled what the three people were yelling. "They were yelling, 'Help, help, I can't hold on any longer'."

While they waited for crews Lawrence knew it was too dangerous for them to help.

"I wasn't willing to let any of our people in the water because of the danger. I did not want to increase the situation and make it worse for all the people," he said.

They stayed on the bank and tried to encourage the three people to hold on tight and not let go.

"[Another neighbor] was able to encourage her (the woman stranded) and keep her active and talking and I think that probably helped her survive knowing somebody was waiting for her and trying to help," he said.

Lawrence said it took crews about two hours to get the boat in the water. However, once they did the nearby power lines made their efforts difficult. He added the main rescue boat could not make it to people so they had to use a smaller one.

"Knowing the situation they (rescue crews) were in, they knew there was fence posting they knew there were wires overhead. You could tell they were trying to figure out a solution to it," he said.

They finally made it to the first man. Lawrence felt it took a long time to get the man rescued but later learned the man was stuck.

"They had to cut his clothes off to get him loose," he said, "So that's what was taking so long."

Then crews were able to rescue the woman. "[Crews] were very brave obviously because they were out there in the raging water trying to pull these guys out," he said.

However, during that rescue the third man's yelling became faint.

"We heard a limb crack and then we heard his voice further downstream like he had broken loose and moved downstream and was hung up again," Lawrence explained. "He made a couple more hollers from there and then we stopped hearing noise. We kept calling to him."

Lawrence said crews stopped searching that morning because it was too dangerous.

"It's a tragedy," he said.

The Sheriff's Office continued their search on Sunday afternoon.

Lawrence said he has talked with the two who were rescued.

"He was very upset, you know obviously the loss of a friend," he explained. "They did find his backpack, I guess, down here. So he was you know, obviously probably still traumatized and shocked because of the situation."

Lawrence said canoeing home is not unusual right now because their main road has been flooded for a couple weeks. The only way in and out is by boat.

"I wish they had gotten ahold of me I would have rowed them across in the bigger boat," he mentioned.

He added when he boats across they do wear life-jackets.

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