A 19-year-old man drowned Sunday afternoon after submerging beneath river waters near Tiscornia Beach on Sunday, adding to a deadly year in the Sacramento region’s waterways.
Jagjit Basra disappeared in the confluence of the American and Sacramento rivers just before 1:45 p.m. Sunday, according to the Sacramento Fire Department. A witness said Basra drowned after trying to save a child who had also run into danger in the river’s waters.
Fire spokesman Roberto Padilla said witnesses reported seeing the victim swimming with a large group of family and friends right before he went under the water.
Within minutes, multiple 911 calls went out. Several people on jet skis and boats tried to make rescues prior to the arrival of firefighters, said Jonathan Williams, a battalion chief for Sacramento Fire. Divers then conducted a comprehensive grid search in the deep and muddy waters. Helicopters were brought in, while leisure boats were turned away.
After 40 grueling minutes, the victim was recovered but unconscious. Per protocol, Basra was transported to UC Davis Medical Center because he had been submerged for less than an hour, Padilla said. A few hours later, he was pronounced dead by doctors, according to the Sacramento County Coroner’s Office.
Sunday’s death adds to the 12 previous drownings reported for the two major rivers in Sacramento County this year, twice the normal amount. Drownings on the Sacramento River were more than four times the normal amount, jumping from an average of about 1.5 a year to six in 2015.
There have been at least nine drownings this summer in the waters near Tiscornia Beach, where the two rivers converge, and at least five in the past two months, said Williams.
Witnesses said Basra drowned after attempting to save a 5-year-old relative in the American River. The young relative survived, said Samuel Wilson who witnessed the drowning with his wife, Foncie Wilson, on the beach.
Wilson said he watched two park rangers enter the water to save the man before Sacramento City Fire Department arrived on the scene.
"It's just really sad to think this could have been any of my kids," said Foncie Wilson. "Everyone should wear a life jacket. Everyone – no matter what. There are plenty life jackets out here; there is no excuse not to be wearing them."
With the state locked in a four-year drought, data from state and federal water agencies show a dramatic decrease in water flowing into the Sacramento River as well as less depth.
Those lower-than-normal river flows have created invitingly warm water and exposed sandy shallows that lure unsuspecting waders into an area of Tiscornia Beach where, close to shore, the river suddenly plunges from waist deep to well over a swimmer’s head, and where the current is so forceful it carries drowning victims a mile downstream to the Tower Bridge. The popular recreation area is near Discovery Park.
Visibility can also pose a challenge for swimmers and rescuers alike, say experts. The American River is fed by relatively clear water from Folsom Lake, while the Sacramento River is heavily silted and contains agricultural runoff.
Sacramento region officials have posted signs and placed life jackets near area beaches in response to the drownings, but many bathers still enter the water without safety equipment.