Video shows man swept away by California river, narrowly avoided ‘certain death’

AUBURN, Calif. -- A Nevada 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 said he was a few feet from certain death.

Emerald Pools on the Yuba River is a popular hiking destination. It's 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 heat wave, 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 California Highway Patrol said was a mile as the river took him downstream. It was a rough ride and Tuiono said he was disoriented.

At one point, he was sucked underneath the whitewater 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. The 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 California Highway Patrol was finally able to pull Tuiono from his precarious perch more than two hours later.

Tuiono knows how lucky he was and thanks the rescue crews for coordinating the 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."