Aasha Sharma, a 27-year-old woman from Sacramento, apparently drowned in the late afternoon Monday off a beach near Discovery Park – the same spot where a young man drowned last week.
Ten divers searched for her for more than an hour before saying about 5:30 p.m. that they were switching to body recovery mode. Her husband, Purna Paudel, kneeled on the sand, cried and prayed as rescuers searched for his wife.
Paudel said he was wading with Sharma and other friends when they suddenly encountered a deep section.
Witnesses said Sharma was with five other people, including Paudel, when the incident occurred. Corey Simpson, 25, of Sacramento was sitting on the beach across from Discovery Park when he heard screams for help from the group.
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“I just ran into the water. I had to do this,” Simpson said.
He said the group was swimming in a 10-foot-deep section of the river with strong currents. “None of them knew how to swim and none of them had life jackets,” Simpson said.
He said he rescued two people, while another beachgoer rescued three.
Sharma and her friends went under off the same beach just north of downtown where a man drowned last week. The popular swimming spot sits where the American and Sacramento rivers meet.
At least two other people have drowned in the past eight days – and others had to be rescued – as swimmers and rafters took to Sacramento-area waterways to escape the heat. The tragedies and near-misses have prompted renewed calls from public-safety officials for increased attention to water safety.
John Mohamed of the Drowning Accident Rescue Team (D.A.R.T.) at the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department said accidents on the river occur when people do things that exceed their physical capability.
Unfamiliarity with the terrain is another factor, he said, especially as the drought shrinks the river and opens up beaches that have never been used before.
“You don’t have that big shallow area anymore,” Mohamed said. “(The river) is much quicker than they are used to, and much deeper.”
On Monday, the Sacramento County Coroner’s Office identified a young man who drowned Wednesday at the same beach where another young woman was pulled out days earlier.
Raul Armando Valdez Aquino, 20, of Elk Grove was trying to swim across the river when he went underwater and did not resurface, according to the Sacramento Fire Department. His body was found downstream Saturday, floating in the Sacramento River near the I Street bridge, near where people were boating and waiting to watch Fourth of July fireworks.
Aquino was found just days after Sonia Rangel Valencia, 36, of Sunnyvale was pulled out of the American River while participating in a June 28 gathering of boats and revelers called Rage on the River. The bodybuilding enthusiast and mother of two grown children died Wednesday.
Valencia was one of two women pulled from the water about 5:30 p.m. by other people participating in the event and taken to a nearby law enforcement boat. The condition and identity of the other woman is not known.
Chris Harvey, a firefighter-paramedic with the Sacramento Fire Department, said a person also was rescued June 30 from the Sacramento River at Garcia Bend Park and transported to the hospital. The status of that victim was not available.
Public safety officials urge swimmers to use personal flotation devices at all times, even if the river appears to be calm. Mohamed called drowning “a silent killer.”
“It’s not like the movies, where you go down three times and yell for help,” he said. “You can be standing within feet of people, and they can go down under.”
Discovery Park, near where the two fatalities occurred, can be treacherous, with currents and underwater obstacles in the rivers.
“There is concrete, there’s a wing dam underwater there,” said Harvey. “It is a dangerous area to try to swim.”
Visibility can also pose a challenge for swimmers and rescuers alike, Mohamed said. The American River is fed by relatively clear water from Folsom Lake, while the Sacramento River is heavily silted and contains agricultural runoff.
From seemingly simple measures such as life vests to limiting alcohol intake, plenty of ways exist to make time on the water safer.
Though not speaking specifically about the recent drownings and close calls, Harvey said incidents share similar characteristics every year once summer rolls around.
“People think they can swim across the river, and they either get tired or it is farther than they think it is,” said Harvey. “Or there may be alcohol involved. It is very hard to swim all the way across the river.”