A 46-year-old Keyes man is lucky to be alive after the Jet Ski he was riding overturned in the middle of the Tuolumne River in Hughson on Monday morning.
Robert Barriaga clung to a branch in the middle of the river for 45 minutes to an hour before he was rescued, said Sgt. Jesus Sigala of the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department.
Barriaga was riding a Jet Ski for the first time when the engine stalled, he said. His brother had just gotten the watercraft and Barriga decided to try it out, he said. His brother watched from the shore and shouted instructions, Barriaga said.
A passerby noticed the watercraft in the water without a rider and called authorities at about 11:40 a.m., according to Sigala.
Water rescue teams from the Sheriff’s department and Hughson Fire Department were in the water after about 10-15 minutes, Sigala said.
Barriaga was uninjured and able to talk about the incident while waiting for authorities to finish up their investigation at the Fox Grove Fishing Access area.
“It was my first time riding it,” Barriaga said. “My brother just got it.”
After the engine stalled, Barriaga said, the current of the river — especially strong after February’s storms — pulled him downstream and the Jet Ski flipped over.
“We just encourage people to use common sense,” Sigala said. “Water levels can be deceiving.”
The strong current, his unfamiliarity with the Jet Ski and his inexperience using the watercraft all contributed to the incident, but at least Barriaga made the wise decision of wearing a life jacket.
“Which is probably what saved his life,” Sigala said.