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Boy dead, another missing after being swept downriver in Yosemite

By Kate Mather and Rebecca Trounson, Los Angeles Times –

LOS ANGELES — A second day of searching showed no sign of the 6-year-old boy swept down the Merced River in Yosemite National Park, one of two brothers caught in a deadly current during a family hike along the park’s most popular trail.

The boy’s 10-year-old brother was pulled from the water shortly after the two were swept away after wading in a rough area of the river, according to park rangers. Despite resuscitation efforts by another park visitor and rangers, he was pronounced dead.

The brothers, who were visiting the park Wednesday with extended family members from Southern California, were about a mile into their hike when they decided to cool off in the river, park spokesman Scott Gediman said. They stopped near the Vernal Fall foot bridge, the first point on the park’s popular Mist Trail where visitors get a glimpse of the 317-foot waterfall that gives the crossing its name.

As the family sought relief from the heat in the shallow waters near the riverbank, the unthinkable happened when the boys were swept away.

The 10-year-old was pulled from the water about 150 yards downstream, Gediman said. A second search began immediately for the 6-year-old.

“Horrible. Horrible. Horrible situation,” Gediman said, his voice trailing off. “These situations are always difficult, but because they’re boys … ”

Park officials would not release the boys’ names because they were minors, Gediman said.

Water levels Wednesday were lower than usual in the stretch of river that searchers combed Thursday, unlike last summer, when a swollen Merced hampered efforts to find the bodies of three Central California friends who were swept over Vernal Fall itself. The last of those bodies were recovered in winter.

Although the water is only 6 or 8 inches deep near the banks, the current remains strong in deeper parts of the river, Gediman said. The low water has also exposed even more of the large boulders that dot the Merced.

“It’s not a popular place to get in” the river, said Park Ranger Kari Cobb. “It’s a very rough part of the river.” She said the boys were wading, not swimming, before they got swept away.

There were no posted warning signs, said Cobb, who added that the “hundreds of miles of river” inside the park made it difficult to warn visitors of every peril.

Before Wednesday’s mishap, there had been two drowning deaths in the park this year, both in the Merced River, Gediman said.

Also Thursday, Yosemite National Park and state health officials said a man died and a woman became ill after coming down with hantavirus pulmonary syndrome, a rare rodent-borne disease, after separate visits to the park in June.

Gediman said the two stayed at the park’s popular Curry Village lodging area on overlapping days.

The man, identified only as a 37-year-old from the San Francisco Bay Area, died in late July, officials said. The virus can take up to six weeks to incubate.

The woman, said to be in her 40s and from the Inland Empire region east of Los Angeles, is recovering.

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