Father missing after jumping into Merced County river to rescue toddler daughter

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A search is still underway as deputies continue to look for a man swept away by the Merced River. (KFSN)

A search was underway in Northern California as deputies continued to look for a man swept away by the Merced River.

Jose Castaneda, 36, went missing on Wednesday -- his wife, along with his family and friends watched desperately as crews surveyed the rushing river.

"The water is very swift moving right-- the water is very deep, it's very cold," said Deputy Daryl Allen of the Merced County Sheriff's Department.

Deputies said Castaneda and his pregnant wife were swimming at the river near Hagaman Park with their 3-year-old daughter when the girl was quickly pulled away by the current. Her parents rushed to get the child, but they were swept away as well.

Both the toddler and the mother were subsequently saved -- however, Castaneda never resurfaced.

Several weeks ago, the Merced County Sheriff's Office announced the river would be closed this year because the water was too dangerous. Deputies also said Hagaman Park was supposed to be closed.

"Nobody is stationed out here, so people swimming out here shouldn't be swimming out here," said Allen.

Many of the signs alerting visitors of the dangerous river are damaged. Authorities said no one had been actively patrolling the river.

"We'll talk to the county about replacing some signs out here at our major parks," said Allen.

Some parkgoers said they did not know the river was closed and signs may help. In the meantime, they said the Merced River is something to enjoy at a distance.

"We're afraid we might go in and the current is going to pull us," said visitor Ana Valencia.

Along with the dive team, the department also used air units in the effort to find the missing swimmer.

The search was suspended late Thursday and was expected to resume the following day, further down the river to an area of interest.
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water rescuemissing manu.s. & worldMerced CountyNorthern California
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