SDMRT 2017-3 Rainbow Creek | Operational Report

Date: 22-26 January 2017

SDMRT Responders:

  1. Operational Period 1 – Michael Fisher, Rob Bair, Pete Jenkins, Eitan Zur, Jesse Ma, Kiana Nakamura, Steve Herman, Melissa Rexilius, Marshall Masser, and Terra Miller
  2. Operational Period 2 – Dennis Peck
  3. Operational Period 3 – Jesse Ma, Rob Bair, Richard Yocum, and Michael Fisher
  4. Operational Period 4 – Bill McNaul and John Hatala

Rainbow Creek, Fallbrook: Phillip Campbell

Operational Period 1: On 22 January 2017 at 1936 hours Sgt. Mark Johnson issued a callout request to search for a reported two males, initially reported as ages 3 and 14 years, possibly swept away in Rainbow Creek swollen by the recent and ongoing heavy rains. CP was Rainbow Oaks Restaurant, 4815 5th Street, Fallbrook. Michael Fisher, Rob Bair, Pete Jenkins, Eitan Zur, Jesse Ma, Kiana Nakamura, Steve Herman, Melissa Rexilius, Marshall Masser, and Terra Miller responded, along with about 30 SDSAR personnel. A stand down order was issued approximately 1 hour later after San Diego Fire/Life Guard swift water teams assessed that the water was much too treacherous to enter or be close to, especially at dark, and advised the Sheriff’s department to stay out of the water and away from the banks. It was learned shortly thereafter via media reports that an adult male had been found deceased in the creek, but a suspected 2- to 4-year-old was not yet found. The team was notified that that search might be resumed at daylight the next day.

It became known that a grandfather and his 5-year-old grandson went out to look a car for sale, and at about 1630 hours probably tried to drive through a river rising over the 5th Street road in the very heavy rains. When the car stalled and/or was rolled by the raging current, the grandfather and grandson were taken down stream by the current. The car was located about 75 yards down steam from the road crossing, and grandfather located about 20 feet down steam from the car drowned in a pile of debris in the middle of the raging river. Grandson was still missing.

Operational Period 2: For the following day, 23 January, 10 motorized unit SAR personnel that had been scheduled for a limited (prequalified USAR personnel) callout to assist with a snow and road detail in Julian were redirected to this Fallbrook search. From SDMRT, only Dennis Peck participated. When they arrived in Fallbrook they split into two teams and walked along the sides of the river while the swift water team members searched the water’s edge. The terrain was treacherous and difficult to search, with lots of poison oak, large sharp rocks and some steep slopes. The operational period ended with no sign of the missing person.

Operational Period 3: On 25 January, in a response to a limited callout (only 4 SDMRT personnel), the search resumed, focused around 2 Pala FD swift water rescue teams of 4 each. Each of those teams, assigned to river left and river right, was paired with a SAR ground team, with SDMRT (Jesse Ma, Rob Bair, Richard Yocum, and Michael Fisher) on river left and 4 SDSAR members on river right. Each of those was paired with a dog and its handler. Integral to the search effort were 36 CDCR inmates split in brush-clearing hand crews (chainsaws, McClouds, and Pulaskis) supervised by 6-8 CDF members. In the air during the day were 2 dedicated ASTREA helos and 2 UAV teams. The CP was again at Rainbow Oaks restaurant, with briefing at 0800 hours. The search commenced at the 5th Street crossing and proceeded slowly and methodically downstream, teams working together to clear debris, past the location where the vehicle was recovered and then where the grandfather’s body recovered, and past the 2 sightings of the boy being carried downstream. The water had receded about 6 feet or more from its peak, which was estimated at 8-15’ about what was a dry creek bed. There was an immense amount of brush and huge piles of debris in the creek bed, and numerous areas that appeared to have been silted over. The teams worked their way well west of Route 15, past Rainbow Glen road, and nearly to the west end of Moon Valley Nursery, covering perhaps 1.25 to 1.5 miles. Other than a cap that might have belonged to the grandfather, no clues were found and the efforts were suspended at about 1600 hours.

Operational Period 4: On 26 January, in response to a request for 16 SDMRT/SD SAR personnel, joined by a couple members of Riverside SAR, the search resumed in a similar fashion, focused on 2 swift water rescue teams. Responding from SDMRT were Bill McNaul and John Hatala. After about 2 hours, in response to 2 dogs who each had alerted and sat in place, a CDCR hand crew was directed to that location from river right and began chain sawing and removing piece by piece a large “beaver dam” of debris close to the water’s edge, which was estimated to have been underwater the day prior, before the water had receded another 1-2 feet. The subject was located above the current water line and within that debris pile, apparently having been caught in that “strainer” and trapped underwater approximately 1 mile from the road crossing. The 10-22 was issued at 1200 hours.

Media Reports: