Drowning victim identified

By: Penne Usher, Gold Country News Service Correspondent
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The victim of a Monday drowning in the South Fork of the American River has been identified as 29-year-old Soren Pedersen of San Francisco. Pedersen was part of a whitewater rafting guide training trip with Project Great Outdoors, rafting down the upper portion of the river near Coloma. It was originally reported that the boat tipped near Gun Sight rock at Trouble Maker rapid, however, acting spokesman for Project Great Outdoors, Nate Rangel, said Pedersen somehow lost his footing and fell into the swift moving water. “The boat did not overturn,” Rangel said. “It was a clean trip through the rapids. He just lost his balance and fell out.” Pedersen, who was wearing a personal flotation device, and at least one other person were tossed from the boat. The victim’s leg became entrapped on rocks about 50 to 70 yards down river and he was unable to free himself. “During the incident the river’s force tore (the life jacket) from the victim once he was trapped,” said Lt. Bryan Golmitz of the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Office. All reports indicate that Pedersen did not hit his head when he became lodged down river from the Class III rapid around 5 p.m. Monday. The force of the water, which was estimated at 1,800 cubic feet per second and rising, delayed rescue efforts by the El Dorado County Swift Water Rescue Team. “There was just so much water coming down. We had to contact PG&E to slow the flow,” Golmitz said. The man’s body was recovered around 8:45 p.m. Monday. Project Great Outdoors is a volunteer-based organization that offers “experiential education programs for disadvantaged youth throughout Northern California and Nevada,” according to the Project Go Web site. “Project Great Outdoors is deeply saddened by the drowning,” Rangel said. “Our thoughts and prayers, and those of the entire river community, are with the family at this time.” The company is not a commercial whitewater rafting company and therefore not permitted, he said. “This is a non-profit that has been providing these trips since 1999. They did everything right — they followed all safety procedure. This was a tragic accident that I don’t think anybody could have foreseen.” Pedersen was not training to be a river guide. He was reportedly a friend of one of the guides-in-training. More than 100,000 people raft the South Fork of the American River every year and there are very few reports of drowning. On Pedersen's MySpace page, friends left messages reading, "Love you, man" and "rest in peace ... you will forever be missed." He was a student at the Miami Ad School in San Francisco, according to his MySpace page.