A near-death rafting experience caught on camera

July 5, 2011 6:00:18 PM PDT
A Bay Area group had a pretty harrowing experience while rafting on the American River over the weekend. The white water is running much higher and faster than usual, making a spill out of the raft, quite dangerous. Because of a near-record snowmelt gushing from the Sierra, a Walnut Creek group had to fight the rapids and almost paid dearly.

On the subject of "How I spent my Fourth of July weekend..." a group of friends from Walnut Creek has all the evidence in video form.

When asked if she had ever been more frightened in her life, white water rafter Mariana Busha, "No, I have not."

"I was pushed to the limits. That's for sure," said rafter Gustavo Fernandez.

It's your latest wrinkle from portable cameras in the digital age -- a near death experience captured for posterity during a rafting trip down the south fork of the American River near Folsom.

It was the extreme conditions of the spring that lured the group to the river in the first place, where the water is moving at 5,000 cubic feet per second. That's three times the normal average. They just hadn't planned that the water would take them under.

Plenty of white water rafters get tossed; that's part of the sport, but even for this well-trained, experienced group, the strength of these rapid waters took a toll, and then, for minutes on end, went to work on their wills.

"What surprised me most was going down the river that long," said rafter and photographer Jim Fidelibus.

"The camera is up here [on top of a bike helmet]. This video shows I was under water for three seconds, but the camera was under water for three seconds, my mouth was under the water... It felt like I was under the water for five to eight seconds. That's when I asked myself, 'This can't be the way that I'm going to go," said rafter and photographer Sherman Chu.

Ultimately, no. They all survived, although one woman in their group did suffer a near concussion and went to the hospital.

"She went into shock. She had memory loss, short-term memory loss," said survivor Mike VanAuken.

And now, she'll always have the video as a cautionary tale of one raft trip gone awry.

After last weekend's close call, the rafters took one last picture to appreciate the fact they are safe and home, which is a happy ending.

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