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Woman rescued, man dies in Madera County creek

A woman rescued from Nelder Creek north of Oakhurst in Madera County is taken by rescue workers to a helicopter for transport to a hospital Thursday afternoon.
A woman rescued from Nelder Creek north of Oakhurst in Madera County is taken by rescue workers to a helicopter for transport to a hospital Thursday afternoon. msmith@sierrastar.com

One person was rescued and another died Thursday in icy, rushing water near Oakhurst after they fell into a swift-moving creek.

The victim rescued, a 33-year-old woman, was described as “extremely hypothermic and unable to walk” after spending more than two hours in the water but otherwise had no apparent serious injuries. She was taken by helicopter to Community Regional Medical Center in Fresno and was expected to recover.

A man with her, believed to be her husband, went into the water to attempt a rescue after she fell down a 10-foot waterfall, Emergency Medical Services officials said. He also became trapped and was declared dead about 2:45 p.m., shortly after rescuers removed the woman from the water, officials said.

A rescue operation began at 11:30 a.m. Thursday for the two people who slipped into Nelder Creek in Madera County. The two, both in their 30s, are from the Merced area, authorities said. They were initially reported to be conscious but unable to get out of the creek, which is near Hidden Falls Road.

The woman reportedly fell down an embankment into Nelder Creek near Gamegan Way and River Falls Road north of Oakhurst and south of the Bass Lake turnoff. Madera County Search and Rescue responded, as did other public safety agencies.

A man and woman were trapped under a waterfall where the Nelder and Lewis creeks meet to form the Fresno River.

Frank Simonis, who lives near the rescue scene, said the two victims were in extremely cold water under the falls where Nelder and Lewis creeks meet and form the Fresno River. Two children were with the man and woman. The children were not injured.

Simonis, a retired paramedic and former reserve deputy, said the victims were in a crevice under the falls.

A Fresno County sheriff’s helicopter was called to the scene but was initially unable to use a long-line cable to make the rescue because of the difficult angle in reaching the victims.

Simonis described the rescue as “an extremely complicated operation.”

Sandbags were used to divert and reduce the amount of water going over the falls to improve conditions for the victims and rescuers, he said.

Both victims, he said, are not English speakers. The water is extremely cold and both victims likely began suffering from hypothermia within minutes of falling into the water, Simonis said

Marc Benjamin: 559-441-6166, @beebenjamin

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