The family members are equipped with walkie-talkies, powerful binoculars and life vests — and they have compartmentalized their grief in order to keep doing what they have to do.

Search. And then search some more.

Dozens of family members came to Bakersfield this week from areas in Northern and Southern California and from as far away as New Jersey after they learned that Shahzad Khan had been swept away by the notorious waters of the Kern River.

"A tragedy like this, there's no blueprint to know what to do and how to do it," Usman Asrar, Khan's brother-in-law, said as he helped coordinate Wednesday's search from a turnout off Highway 178 at the mouth of the Kern River Canyon.

Asrar said the Kern County Sheriff's Search-and-Rescue efforts have been "tremendous."

"We're trying to complement their efforts," he said.

Seven of the family members had been having a wonderful visit to the Kern all day Saturday. They had already finished an expedition below the canyon with a local commercial whitewater adventure company.

"We had just said our late afternoon prayers," Asrar remembered.

There was still some daylight left, so they decided to drive into the canyon.

They took note of the sign at the entrance of the canyon warning that hundreds of lives have been lost in the deceptively inviting waters of the Kern.

"It was beautiful," Asrar said of the sight before them. "Our family was in awe of God's majesty and beauty. We were reflecting and taking it all in."

They pulled into a turnoff about a mile in and walked to the water's edge. Asrar waded into a sheltered spot. "Still water," he called it. Khan was right behind him.

But Khan continued farther out, saying he wanted to go around a boulder.

Eventually, panic ensued. Khan was in trouble. Asrar ran to the road to ask passing motorists for a rope. 

Ismael Sindha, Khan's young nephew, remembers seeing his uncle being carried downriver by the fierce current. He was in the "lounge chair position," a safety position they all had been taught earlier that day by whitewater professionals: feet pointed downriver, face up.

But it wasn't enough.

Even sheriff's Search and Rescue teams are not allowed to use inflatables in that part of the river, said KCSO spokeswoman Angela Monroe. It's too dangerous.

For four days the search has continued. On Tuesday, a sheriff's helicopter flew just feet from the surface, making several passes. To no avail. Drones equipped with cameras have scanned the beaches, the banks, the eddies.


And for days, family members have walked the river while spotters on higher ground used binoculars to help them.


"We are trying our best. We are hopeful," Asrar said. "At the same time, we are managing hope and reality."

And reality is winning.

Steven Mayer can be reached at 661-395-7353. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter: @semayerTBC.

(7) comments


So sorry for the families loss!

But they read the enormous sign at the mouth of the canyon which states the dangerous water, how many drownings since 1968, and the numerous warnings along the road shoulder, all stating to wear a life vest!

The heroic Search and Rescue volunteers are then expected to risk their lives and put themselves into dangerous situations to save, but in most cases it is a recovery for people that read the warnings and then chose to ignore them. That is the true shame.


This is sad, I am very sorry for the families loss.

But , they read the enormous sign at the mouth of the canyon that states the number of drownings since 1968, and the numerous signs along the roadside to wear a life vest, they still did not take the those cautious warnings seriously, and went into the river anyway. that is the true shame.

6 drownings since June all due to not taking proper safety measures.

The heroic Search and Rescue volunteers are then expected to put themselves into dangerous situations to save, but in most cases it's a recovery, of people who ignore the warnings. Many resources are wasted due to being negligent.

The warnings are there for a reason, don't ignore them!


We come from you, to you we belong, and to you we shall return. Please dont test us with a burden that we cannot bear, for indeed we are weak.


This is such a heartbreaking article. But still I can't help how this family beautifully shares their to Family, Joy, Hope, Sorrow and Faith in their short testimonies.


Ya Allah, return him safely to his family in this world and the next. Grant his family patience during these times and make them from the saabireen. Help his family recover from this calamity through coming closer to You. This worldly life is short whether we're taken at 32 or 82. "And indeed, the home of the Hereafter is the real life, if only they knew." Ya Allah unite the families in this world and the next, in the highest level of Jannah alongside our beloved, sallAllahu 'alayhi wasallam.


The exploring stops here ... If you get that close theres going to be a force to get you into the water ,then the force is taking you against your will so WHY WOULD YOU GET THAT CLOSE TO A PLACE CALLED "oops, yo dead" FOR 438 PEOPLE?


Have some decency.

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.