Accident Database

Report ID# 493

  • Swim into Strainer
  • Does not Apply
  • Cold Water

Accident Description

On June 17 Brenda Snow, 13, died on the Kern below Fairview Dam during a father-daughter trip. Her raft hit a submerged log and flipped; she apparently became tangled on the strainer. This was the first drowning on the Kern in 20 years of commercial outfitting. The parents were very understanding and supportive of the outfitters during this tragedy, and later participated in a memorial raft trip down the same stretch.

Subject: Commercial Death on the Kern

Date: Monday, June 22, 1998

On 19 Jun 1998  in Preston Holmes wrote: Below is an AP article on the first commercial death on the Kern. One factual error in this article, is that there has only been one death of a non commercial whitewater paddler - who died on Carson Falls of the Forks of the Kern run in an IK, so a total of two whitewater deaths on the Kern. There have been a large number of swimmer deaths, usually due to gross negligence or ignorance.


June 19, 1998 KERNVILLE-As the El Niño-fed Sierra snowpack finally melts, it's transforming California rivers into raging torrents, forcing commercial outfitters to review safety procedures for rafting trips after a 13-year-old girl drowned. "It's like the whole southern end of the Sierra is a giant glacier with a grin on its face saying, "I'm going to get you,'" said Chuck Richards, a whitewater rafting outfitter who specializes in trips on the Kern River, about 50 miles east of Bakersfield.

Branda Snow of Boise, Idaho, was riding with her father, Russell Snow of Escondido, when the raft hit a submerged tree and flipped Tuesday, sending all into the brown, frothy Kern. Her father, four other passengers and a guide swam to shore. Branda didn't. Search and rescue teams found her body yesterday beneath a log in the middle of the river where the raft capsized, said Lt. Mike Gutsch of the Tulare County Sheriff's Department.

Her death is the first of a commercial rafter since outfitters started offering trips on the Kern more than 20 years ago. However, the river is known as the "Killer Kern" because 195 swimmers and amateur whitewater paddlers have died there over the past 30 years. Judy Schutza, district ranger for Sequoia National Forest, called a meeting with the four outfitters permitted for the Kern to review their safety procedures for rafting trips. "Because of the seriousness of this accident, we had to regroup and review procedures to see if we need to change anything that we're doing," Schutza said. "We had to do something. We issue the permits." The forest service won't close the river to rafters, she said. That would imply somebody did something wrong. "It's tragic, but that's the way it is with nature," she said. "In the outdoors, you have risks."

Branda took the rafting trip with Kern River Tours Inc., which has carried passengers down the river for 25 years without a fatality, said Mary Jo Roberts, who owns the company with her husband, Rick. She declined to say more. Her eyes filled with tears as she explained that they're just not ready to talk about the accident. Their company along with Chuck Richards Whitewater, Whitewater Voyages and Outdoor Adventures are the outfitters permitted for rafting the Kern. During the meeting with forest service officials, they agreed to submit a list of precautions they take to ensure safe rafting trips.

Richards, who has operated his company since the mid-1970s, said outfitters automatically shift their procedures when the water level gets high. "We've been canceling trips, culling people on the trips by age, putting fewer people in the rafts and being selective about who guides," Richards said. "We're already doing all of those things." At more than 7,000 cubic feet of water moving per second, Richards said the only time he has seen the Kern at such a high level was during the last El Niño in 1983. But because of the way the river is flowing now and the whole snowpack yet to melt, he expects this year's level to surpass that of 1983.

On Wednesday, the National Weather Service issued its first flood warning of the season for the Southern Sierra. Outfitters stopped trips on the upper portion of the river after receiving the warning, Richards said. Bill McGinnis, president of El Sobrante-based Whitewater Voyages, the largest rafting company in the state, said his company canceled outings on the Kern, Toulumne and Merced rivers so far this spring because of high water levels. The high runoff came late this year because of the recent cool weather.

With higher temperatures comes higher water, he said. Rivers demand caution

By Jeff Jardine Bee staff writer

(Published: Friday, June 19, 1998)

Thursday, rescuers found the body of a 13-year-old girl who drowned in the Kern River after the raft on which she was a passenger capsized. Her death is the first for a commercial rafter since outfitters started offering trips on the Kern more than 20 years ago. However, the river, east of Bakersfield, is known as the "Killer Kern" because 195 swimmers and amateur white-water paddlers have died there over the past 30 years.

The four outfitters that offer trips on the Kern will be reviewing procedures in the aftermath of the girl's death. Charlie and Lee, More on the recent Kern and American River drownings. The 6/17 victim on the Kern was a 13 year old girl who was a commercial rafting patron with Kern River Tours. The drowning occured on the upper Kern (I'm not sure what section). The flow was 7000 cfs. The raft she was in flipped, and her body was subsequently found underneath a log in river-center not far from the flip. Her father, the guide, and four other passengers swam to shore.

California, which has experienced both a heavy snowpack and a cool spring, is in for a prolonged period of extremely high water. Already eleven rafting fatalities have been reported; two involved a mother and child on an air mattress, but the rest are for real! Three occurred within a few days of each other on the South Fork of the American near Lotus, California. A popular Class III+ summer run at 1200-1600 cfs, at 6,000-8,000 cfs the river becomes very continuous and turbulent. At this point it should be considered heavy class IV-IV+. Most of this information was reported by AW Director and Friends of the River conservationist Richard Penny.


On June 17, Branda Snow, 13, died on the Kern below Fairview Dam when her raft hit a submerged log and flipped. She apparently became tangled on the strainer. This is the first drowning on the Kern in 20 years of commercial outfitting. The parents were very supportive of the outfitters actions in this tragedy.

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