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This story is taken from the Sacramento, CA Bee (

Teen dies in river rapids

Victim's dad, a former outfitter of whitewater trips, can't pull her from underwater rocks.

Bee Staff Writers Published Monday, July 24, 2006 The body of a 13-year-old San Rafael girl was recovered from the south fork of the American River early Sunday morning, a day after she was bounced out of a raft and became trapped between rocks near Chili Bar in El Dorado County. Christine Piatti was rafting with a group of 11 friends and family members from the Bay Area about noon Saturday. She was in the lead raft with her father, Mark Piatti, a former commercial-rafting outfitter, when they entered the Meat Grinder rapids about a mile west of the Chili Bar put-in area. The two were bounced out of the raft and into the water. "One minute she was on top of the water on her back with her feet up and pointed downstream, and the next minute she wasn't there," Mark Piatti said Sunday. Lt. Marty Hackett of the El Dorado County Sheriff's Department's Office of Emergency Services, described the incident as a "dreadful, unfortunate thing."

The rafting party had done everything right, Hackett said. "In this situation, they had appropriate rafts and experienced people managing them," he said. Christine Piatti was wearing a high quality, properly fitting life vest, Hackett said, noting that the vest was still in place when rescuers recovered her body. Mark Piatti said he operated a rafting business in the area in the early 1980s and was acquainted with that stretch of the river. Because of the fast-flowing water, Piatti initially was unable to reach his daughter. The group immediately beached the rafts, and Piatti went into the water again. He located his daughter, but was unable to free her. "She got her foot caught between two rocks," he said. Such occurrences are known as "entrapment." "The force of the water is so great that it just wedges them further into it and there's nothing you can do," said Lt. Marc Adams, a Sheriff's Department spokesman. Adams said a member of the group ran back a mile along the river and called 911. Hackett said rescue crews arrived about 30 minutes later. Because of the amount of time the girl had been under water, she was presumed dead, he said, and the incident commander determined that river flows at the time made it too dangerous for divers to attempt to free her.

The river was flowing at 2,500 cubic feet per second, Hackett said, adding that normal flows this time of year are about 1,500 cfs. He said the Sheriff's Department arranged with Pacific Gas and Electric Co. and the Sacramento Municipal Utility District to reduce flows from their dams. "It has to be coordinated between the two," he said, explaining that the operation took place at dawn Sunday. Hackett said nine deputies with the swiftwater rescue team and six volunteer members participated in the recovery.

Mark Piatti said Christine had just graduated from eighth grade and would have been a freshman at Terra Linda High School in San Rafael this fall. This was her first rafting trip, he said, adding that his daughter's first love was horses. She started helping out at a stable when she was 12, he said. "She fought the battle and finally got her horse," Piatti said. Though river flows Saturday were higher than normal for this time of year, Hackett said they are considered navigable, but he advised would-be rafters to use commercial outfitters. El Dorado County has had five drownings this year, including one at Jenkinson Lake in the Sly Park Recreation Area and one at Rock Creek, Hackett said.

About the writer: The Bee's Cathy Locke can be reached at (916) 608-7451 or Go to: Sacbee / Back to story