AUBURN, Calif. – A Reno man who was swept down the upper Yuba River in California can't believe he's still alive -- and he's not alone. The team that rescued him says he was a few feet from certain death.
This Emerald Pools on the Yuba River are a popular hiking destination near Highway 20 and Emigrant Gap. This is where self-described adventurer Kalani Tuiono and his girlfriend went swimming.
"It was my first time there, it was beautiful," Tuiono said. Beautiful, but dangerous. During a recent heatwave, officials warned people to stay out of the river after two men drowned, one on June 16 and the other two days later.
Tuiono told KTXL-TV that he is a strong swimmer, but said when he tried to swim across a calm spot in the river he was pulled downstream by a powerful undertow and overwhelmed by the cold, fast-moving river, swollen with snow runoff.
He was pulled under and through numerous rapids for what the CHP says was a mile as the river took him downstream. It was a rough ride and Tuiono says he was disoriented.
At one point, he was sucked underneath the white water of the turbulent river and somehow managed to grab onto a large rock. It was a move that likely saved his life, according to officials – that rock was the last boulder before a 40-foot waterfall.
"I squeezed that rock as hard as I could, I didn’t have the strength to get up on the rock," Tuiono said.
When he finally did, he found himself stranded.
"There was no way off of that rock, the cliff wall next to me, the closest spot where I could get off the river was just a sheer cliff," Tuiono said.
After picking up a Truckee Fire rescuer, the CHP was finally able to pull Tuiono from his precarious perch over two hours later.
Tuiono knows how lucky he was and thanks to the CHP, Truckee Fire and Cal Fire crews for coordinating a rescue effort, which included Tuiono’s girlfriend, who got stuck on a cliff trying to reach him.
He is glad to relay a message after his ordeal:
"Not to get in the water at all and tell everyone you love about these rivers and how dangerous they are because they really are no joke."