18-year-old drowns while swimming at San Joaquin River in Northwest Fresno

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Sunday, May 21, 2017
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Search and rescue crews scrambled for over two hours to find 18-year-old Neng Thao, but he was dead by the time they reached him.

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Heartbreak pierced across the San Joaquin River Saturday, as family rushed into each other's arms after learning their 18-year-old loved one Neng Thao was found submerged in about 18 feet of water.

The drowning happened on a hot Saturday afternoon where Kendall Parsio brought his kids. He says they were sitting on the shore when a group of men starting screaming for help.

"'He can't swim, he can't swim,'" he recalled hearing.

Without hesitation, Parsio and his friends jumped in.

"The current was taking us pretty fast, and so we got out and went around in about 60 yards," Parsio said. "We can't see. There was nobody there."

The victim floated quickly downstream, causing an intense search and rescue for roughly two hours.

With a helicopter in the sky, Fresno Fire says it was a fisherman who assisted them by using his boat's depth finder and knowledge of the river to locate the young man.

"We were able to find that person," Deputy Chief Todd Tuggle explained. "So, at least we gave him a chance, and we owe a lot of thanks to that fisherman who did that."

As those close to the victim grieve with the sudden and tragic loss, first responders are urging people who may venture out on the water to be careful.

"It looks very smooth across the surface, but as we saw today it doesn't take much for that water to drag you under and it's dangerous," Tuggle said.

The fire department has added more than 20 people to its swift water rescue team and nearly 15 to its rescue boats operations because they know this is just the beginning of a very busy summer.

The family set up a GoFundMe account.