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California man on church trip washes away over 600-foot Yosemite waterfall

The family of a 19-year-old man who was swept downstream to the edge of a Yosemite waterfall reacts to news of his disappearance. KCRA's Mallory Hoff reports.

A 19-year-old California man is feared dead after he was caught in river currents and swept over a giant waterfall while swimming in Yosemite National Park over the weekend.

Aleh Kalman of Sacramento was swimming in the Merced River during a church retreat just before 3 p.m. Saturday when fast-moving waters seized him and drove him downstream over the 600-foot Nevada Fall, park officials said.

After a couple days of searching, officials did not dispatch search and rescue teams to find Kalman on Monday morning, according to park ranger Kari Cobb.

“We believe that a fall from that waterfall is not survivable,” Cobb said, adding that park authorities will conduct another round of searches in a few days or when the water recedes to the point that authorities can get a closer look at the riverbed.

More than 20 members of the park’s search and rescue team scoured the base of the river for Kalman over the weekend, according to Cobb. A California Highway Patrol helicopter scanned from the air on Saturday, she added.

Kalman is believed to have been hiking on the park’s Mist Trail before taking a dip in the river roughly 150 feet upstream from the precipice of the towering waterfall. Witnesses saw Kalman getting caught in the ferocious tides before being washed away, according to a park statement released Sunday.

“The Merced River is very strong, even in places where it appears calm,” Cobb said. “But under the surface, it can be extremely powerful.”

Kalman’s relatives told reporters they preferred not to comment to preserve their privacy, according to NBC station KCRA of Sacramento.

Members of the Second Slavic Baptist Church in North Highlands, which serves a congregation of immigrants from Russia and other former Soviet republics, grieved during Sunday services at the presumptive loss of a teenager whom they called upbeat and a “good guy.”

“I feel bad,” Oksana Naumets told KCRA on Sunday. “Everybody pray today.”

Denis Koleukhov, who also belongs to the church, said the group regularly went on trips to Yosemite, and "they didn't think anything bad would happen."

Kalman reportedly traveled to Yosemite in a group of 85, but it is unclear how many of those people were swimming with him when he was washed away, Cobb said.

NBC News' M. Alex Johnson contributed to this report.

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