Siblings, 4 and 2 years old, die after being swept away by quick-moving California stream

Two young siblings out for a picnic with their mother died Monday after being swept up in a rapidly flowing stream, California authorities said.

The mother, her 4-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son were spending the afternoon at the Thurman Flats Picnic Area near Mill Creek when the tragedy occurred, the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department said Tuesday.

Officials said the mother had been occupied with her son when her daughter “was taken” down a fast-moving stream around 3 p.m. After an unsuccessful search for the girl, the woman returned to the picnic site to find her son was missing, presumably also taken down the river, San Bernardino authorities said.

“After frantically searching,” the mom enlisted the help of another family in the picnic area, but the group was ultimately unable to find the woman’s children, officials said.

Rescue crews from multiple agencies — including Yucaipa Air Rescue, Mentone fire personnel, U.S. Forest Service Rescue Crew and local sheriff’s deputies — arrived about an hour later to assist. They found the 4-year-old girl about 30 minutes later, and the 2-year-old boy 30 minutes after that.

Both children, who were found near the water’s edge, were pronounced dead at local hospitals after “extensive life-saving measures.”

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The mountainside picnic site in the San Bernardino National Forest sits off Highway 38 just outside of Yucaipa. It’s a popular bird-watching site with a few trails leading down to the banks of Mill Creek, the major tributary of the Santa Ana River where the two children’s bodies were found.

The waters are fed from the San Bernardino range, and with almost 200 inches of snowfall last season, the likelihood of the fast-flowing waters being dangerous and cold grows.

California officials often warn those nearing state waters to be extra cautious during the spring months for that reason. Last year, the governor’s office of emergency services said the snowmelt-fed streams would “literally take your breath away” upon entry.

“Sudden immersion in cold water can stimulate the ‘gasp reflex,’ causing an involuntary inhalation of air or water and can start the drowning process immediately,” the notice said.

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