Summer is still six weeks away but traffic is already heating up on the icy waters of the Wenatchee River.

In recent weeks, scores of recreationists have been inner tubing, rafting, and paddle boarding the river - which is running fast and cold - and that's leading to a spike in calls for emergency assistance.

"We had multiple calls over the past weekend for water rescues where rafts were turned upside down and one guy was drunk as a skunk up the Entiat (River) and fell in and had to be rescued," said Shawn Ballard of Ballard Ambulance. "But the Wenatchee River is basically a continuous riptide right now. So if you're not experienced and not familiar with fast-moving water and how to navigate it safely, just don't go there."

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One fatality has already occurred on the Wenatchee River this year, when a Cashmere man died in a rafting accident near Dryden last Thursday.

Ballard says the Wenatchee River is currently only around 47 degrees in most spots, and that even brief immersion in such cold water can prove lethal.

"There's a phase called 'cold shock' when you enter water like that where within thirty seconds to two minutes time, people will die just from that initial shock. People with underlying health conditions and things like that are vulnerable from just that initial immersion because of the sheer stress it puts on the body. Their heart rate jumps, their blood pressure jumps up, and then there's just this huge strain on the body."

Ballard adds there are many other causes of death and serious injury when accidents occur in cold and swift waters, such as drowning and hypothermia.

Flows on the Wenatchee River are currently at near record levels, and officials with Chelan County Emergency Management are reminding the public to use extreme caution when going near its waters and to always wear a personal flotation device.

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