A 27-year-old San Francisco man drowned Monday afternoon at Lake Berryessa, the second drowning in six days and the third over the past month, the Napa County Sheriff’s Office reported.
The lake can be a treacherous place for non-swimmers or weak swimmers who can quickly find themselves in trouble when the ground beneath them drops off sharply, said Deputy Jeff Scott, leader of the sheriff’s Dive Team that recovered Monday’s drowning victim.
Eddie Santos was in waist-deep water with his sister and friends when he stepped into deeper water and did not surface, Henry Wofford, a spokesperson for the Sheriff’s Office, said Tuesday morning.
Monday’s drowning was reported to the Sheriff’s Office at 2:40 p.m. The sheriff’s Dive Team recovered Santos’ body in 18 feet of water, Wofford said. Last week’s drowning victim was recovered in six feet of water.
Swimming at Lake Berryessa is far different from enjoying a community pool where the water is clear, the depths shallow and the safety of a concrete rim close at hand, Scott said.
“You can’t see the terrain underwater to see if you’re getting into a (deep) area. If you’re not a strong swimmer, it can take you by surprise,” Scott said Tuesday.
“Some try to swim across a cove, then they get out into the middle of the water and figure out it’s farther than they thought or they’re not as strong a swimmer as they thought,” he said.
Inexperienced swimmers often panic when they find themselves in trouble, Scott said. “Once you start to panic, that’s pretty much it. It’s hard to recover from that. You stop doing the things necessary to save yourself.”
Until many of the resorts at the lake closed a decade ago, there were seasons when a half dozen or more swimmers drowned at Berryessa, Scott said. When the majority of resorts were shut down by the federal government, the number of deaths dropped, he said.
Now that the lake has become busier, the number of drowning is increasing, he said.
Oak Shores is a public recreation area operated by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. It is “definitely the most used public access on the lake,” Scott said.
On Monday afternoon, Santos was in the water with an adult sister and a flotation device when they found themselves in trouble, Scott said.
People came to assist them to get to shore. The sister made it to safety, but Santos “went under and nobody could find him,” Scott said.
Wofford said he didn’t know if if Santos knew how to swim.
Scott said lake visitors should follow some basic safety rules when entering the water.
“Don’t drink to excess. Don’t combine any of that with drug use. And wear a flotation device, especially if you’re not a strong swimmer,” he said.
Scott said he had no information that Santos was under the influence.
He noted that the Bureau of Reclamation rents out free flotation devices at Oak Shores.
Anyone who finds themselves in trouble should try to relax, float on their back, tread water — whatever it takes to conserve energy and wait for rescue, Scott said.
“People don’t have as much respect for the fact that they’re in a lake,” he said. “A body of water that’s not a pool. If you go down in the water, nobody can see you.”
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