Squaw Lake, SoCal – The Search

Imperial Dam
The Imperial Dam that forms Squaw Lake

This is my second post on the problem with our missing neighbors if you have not read the previous article click here.

The couple from the older motor home in the spot next to us had not returned, it was getting late. The night air was cooling quickly, the river water was already cold. What had become of our neighbors?

Even though we had not met them, our concern for the couple was growing by the minute, the thought of any person, friend or not, floating helpless in the cold river was alarming.

The river flows south towards the giant Imperial Dam, what if the couple are pushed through the dam, could they survive,……………. if they were still alive?

News of the couple’s predicament spread quickly through the campground. Concerned campers approached our group  seeking more information about our neighbors. There wasn’t much to tell.

‘H’ and I reclaimed our seats around the campfire after waking the camp host to sound the alarm. We told the group of our search along the shore for the water craft, the dog crashing at the motor home door, the campers we talked to across from the couple’s rig,and the sign on the camp host door, “don’t come a knocking if this rigs a rockin,”

A laugh that was needed, easing some tension. Our laugh was stifled by a distant sound, the thump thump of an approaching helicopter, a rescue craft? but this was too quick it didn’t seem that enough time had passed, we had just returned from reporting to the camp host?……………………… Strange?

Squaw lake bay
Squaw lake bay, campground to the left and boat launch to the right

Minutes later sirens and flashing emergency lights filled the dark sky, it was the Sheriff’s dept. speeding down the hill into camp, one car and a minute later an SUV.

The rescue helicopter arrived within seconds of the Deputies, circled the campground as if to arrogantly announce their presence, then flew off to the north following the river channel.

At one point the intense search light of the helicopter focused on our group,……….. a strange feeling………. not a good one, a bit scary…… except for us men…..right?……lol.

I felt like I had been caught and a loud speaker was about to demand we get down on the ground and put our hands behind our heads,……..maybe too much TV?

The light focused for a few seconds then flew north along the river, to begin the search, we thought.


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It was getting late and concern for the couple was growing, everyone was feeling the fatigue from the excitement. Even though we are accustomed to hitting the sac early, no one was budging from the campfire.

We remained around the campfire soaking in the warmth, through the dark from time to time we could hear the helicopter searching the river. An hour or so later the camp host arrived at our camp with news,the expression on his face didn’t reveal his concern , a watercraft had been found grounded on a sand bar a couple of miles north of Fishers Landing, Martinez Lake. Fishers Landing is about 10 miles north of our campground.

A cold silence enveloped the group, our worst fears had been realized, the couple from the motor home were indeed lost in the cold dark river.

My thoughts drifted to the couple, I had seen them briefly when they arrived, and I remember the man was older, around 70, the women at least a decade younger, I wondered how long they could survive in the frigid river water?

The camp host continued his briefing,…………. the helicopter was heading back to the marine base in Yuma to refuel and return to the search, also a search and rescue boat had been dispatched from Brawley, California.

Brawley, California was probably 4 hrs away, I thought this strange, surely there was a rescue boat closer. Hidden Shores RV Resort is directly across the river from our camp, we had been there a couple of times to check out the facilities, including a small marina.

Is it not possible to commandeer or solicit the use of one or more of these boats to search the river for the  poor couple who most likely were in real danger of succumbing to the elements? I am no expert but I do know that the human body can only survive for a limited time in cold water.

Besides Hidden Shores, just beyond is the Yuma proving grounds, a military training center, would they not have a rescue boat, or the Marine base in Yuma? Doesn’t the word Marine have something to do with water?

This whole scenario was driving me to distraction, what if one of the dams on the Colorado River broke and flooded the valley, would the victims need to wait hours for a rescue boat to travel half way across the state of California?…. Bogus!!


 

The Helicopter returned to the search flying over our camp and continuing up the river channel, it disappeared into the night as the thumps of the rotor faded. The night was quiet as we huddled around the campfire in thoughtful silence of our neighbors floating in the cold water in the dark of the night, with only starlight, the thought brought shivers to my spine, I moved closer to the fire.

The night seemed to be much colder and darker than previous nights or maybe we were more aware. The stars were brilliant casting a pale glow of light over the lake from the moonless sky.

The group suddenly came alive with the sound of the helicopter in the distance. Was it returning with the couple from the cold river water or was is heading to refuel, again?

The helicopter’s flight path was directly towards the campground, it seemed likely the lost souls had been found, are they well, would it be a happy ending? The helicopters search light was still bright,……………. maybe it was still searching?

Quickly the helicopter circled and landed on a paved area near the boat ramp where the sheriff’s cars with lights flashing had parked. We peered through the night trying to see the couple climb out of the helicopter’s belly.

The engine’s noise had lessened and the rotors slowed as it idled in the parking area. Our neighbors had arrived……..or?

The group decided all was well and some headed to their rigs to end the night. Me, not yet, I still needed to confirm the couple had been rescued.

‘H’ and ‘R’ had the same need, we headed across the campground and the dimly lit boat parking area to check out the situation. As we crossed the parking lot the helicopter’s engine noise increased, in a second it was airborne circling again then south away from the river.

The three of us approached the Deputies sitting in their cruisers, heads bent writing. Where were the couple from the water? What was happening, had the helicopter taken them to the hospital?

As we neared, the closest Deputy looked up and acknowledged us, “What can I do for you gentlemen,” he said with an official tone. I inquired as to what was happening and had the couple been found.

“Unfortunately not,” He replied, “the helicopter found their watercraft, but no sign of the couple”. He filled us in on the days events. The couple’s watercraft had sank somewhere up the river from Fishers Landing on Martinez lake.

Fishers Landing
Fishers Landing a couple miles up river

The couple had called 911 with their cell phone, but the phone’s battery soon died,……….. while talking to the 911 operator.

He explained that the helicopter had headed back to Yuma and would not return, but a rescue boat was on it’s way. I thought this strange and wrong, why would the Helicopter not return to the search, to me this was the fastest way to search the river?

Or maybe the Deputy was leaving out an important detail, maybe the couple had been spotted…………… floating lifeless in the water?

While talking with the Deputy the other Deputy emerged from his SUV, walked over and listened for a second, seemingly satisfied with the conversation, retreated from the cold night air to his car.

The Deputy asked if we knew the couple or had any idea what their plans for the day had been? We gave a brief history of our actions and that we had not met our neighbors. The deputy assured us that the couple would be found as soon as the rescue boat arrived.

He didn’t appear to show any urgency, maybe it was intentional for our benefit or maybe this was just another missing person,………….. all in a day’s work? Hum?

Squaw lake campground
Squaw lake campground

We headed back to our rigs,……. in silence not mentioning the conversation with the Deputy………. I am sure we were all thinking the worst.

We walked briskly in the cold air  back around the bay through the dim light cast from the parking lot light.

Only glowing coals remained of the campfire, the cold night air was taking its toll. ‘H’, ‘R’ and I talked briefly, there was nothing more we could do in the darkness and headed for our respective rigs.

Most of us retired folks have trouble sleeping from time to time, I’m not sure if it is lack of daly mental stimulation or what, but for sure this was going to be one of those nights.

There were too many questions unanswered. What had happened to our couple in the older motor home, had they succumbed to the elements and perished in the water.

Did the helicopter leave after spotting their floating bodies, not equipped to retrieve them from the river’s grip.

Was the rescue boat coming to conduct the gruesome task of plucking the bodies from the river this dark night?

Too many questions.

None of us would get much sleep this sad night.

The next segment of this situation will be published in a couple of days. I hope you will check it out.

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Thanks for visiting.

Gord B.

5 thoughts on “Squaw Lake, SoCal – The Search”

  1. Great piece of writing Gordon. and all the more riveting because it is nonfiction. But I have to know if the couple was found, and how the story ends!

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