Auburn man drowns in popular river swim spot

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Authorities have identified a man who drowned after slipping off a rock into the swift-flowing water of the South Yuba River as an Auburn resident. The body of 20-year-old Robert Welch was recovered in the water downstream from a popular Nevada County swimming spot where he had apparently slipped into the river. Nevada County Sheriff Keith Royal said today that Welch's girlfriend had attempted to reach for him after he slid down a rock into the water. But Welch disappeared underwater and failed to resurface, he said. Welch went into the water Friday afternoon and his body was spotted by two swimmers below the old Highway 49 bridge, 7 miles north of Nevada City, on Monday. Search efforts went on through the Fourth of July weekend before the swimmers’ discovery of the body, Royal said. The recovery was hampered by swift flows on the river, he said. Sheriff’s deputies reported Welch’s girlfriend was crying and visibly shaken as she waited on the rocky shoreline. The spot where Welch disappeared is popular but dangerous during times when the water is running swift and cold, as it is now, Royal said. “We’ve had a number of drownings in that area over the years,” he said. It’s still unclear whether Welch intentionally slid down a boulder into the river or did so accidentally, Royal said. “He stood up (after he slid in) but was then pulled into the current,” the sheriff said. Welch and his female companion, who was not identified, had arrived at the river only minutes before. Law enforcement responded to the emergency call at the old Highway 49 bridge a little before 3 p.m. Friday. The river is strewn with boulders and slots in the rocks, Royal said. “It’s inviting on a hot day but there are slots deep under the water that you can get wedged on,” he said. Once a victim is wedged against a rock – sometimes called a strainer – and pinned by the current, it’s virtually impossible to escape, Royal said. It’s also difficult to locate and recover a body. Dive teams summoned to the river on the weekend decided against a search through boulders and logs because of a current running at 630 cubic feet per second, he said. Instead, they attempted to use underwater cameras to locate the body, Royal said. Welch’s body eventually floated free and was found about 50 feet away where he had slipped into the water.