There have been several drownings on the lake where the Glee actress disappeared Wednesday

By Christine Pelisek and Morgan Smith
July 09, 2020 06:11 PM
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The Southern California lake where Naya Rivera went missing Wednesday afternoon during a boating trip has been the site of several drownings due to its dangerous conditions.

According to the Los Angeles Times, about seven people drowned in Lake Piru between 1994 and 2000. And Douglas West, Lake Piru’s parks and recreation services manager at the time of the 2000 article, counted about a dozen drownings during his 23 years there. The Times noted that "most drowning victims were swimmers venturing into restricted waters."

"The only thing I can emphasize is that if swimmers are around water, they need to wear a personal flotation device whether they know how to swim or not,” West told the newspaper. “That will save their lives.”

Ventura County Sheriff Sgt. Kevin Donoghue confirmed to PEOPLE that there have been prior drownings on the lake.

Rivera, 33, was reported missing after a trip to the 1,200-acre lake in Ventura County, California, with her son Josey Dorsey, 4. The pair rented a pontoon boat and were swimming in the water when Rivera disappeared.

Donoghue compared the search for the Glee actress native as looking for “a needle in a haystack.”

Ricardo DeAratanha/Getty Images

“Water searches are really difficult,” he said. “Sometimes it can take several days before we find any clues or have a recovery."

Lake Piru’s rough conditions are an added challenge, he said: “The surface area of the lake is large and your visibility under water is limited.”

Park officials have previously noted that strong winds, chilly waters and the lake’s depth (160 ft) are often to blame in such incidents. "This area is notorious for the winds," Donoghue said of the lake.

After the boat was overdue for return after the three-hour rental, staff at the lake's concession stand found it at the north side of the body of water, with Josey sleeping aboard. There likely weren’t many boats around as the lake is less popular on weekdays, Donoghue noted.

Naya Rivera and son Josey
CHRIS DELMAS/AFP via Getty Images

The search for Rivera has shifted from a rescue mission to a recovery one, with the star presumed dead, authorities announced Thursday.

The pontoon boat Rivera rented is a low-power boat meant for “slow leisure days on the water,” Donoghue said. Renters are also given boater safety instructions before setting out onto the lake.

Last year, there were 4,168 recreational boating accidents in the United States that killed 613 people, according to the Coast Guard. Drowning was the top reported cause of death in about 79% of all boating fatalities. Of those who drowned, 86% were reportedly not wearing life jackets.

Donoghue said they found an adult life jacket on board the boat, but they weren’t confident if it belonged to Rivera or if it was an extra vest.

“But … if she had a life jacket, we would find her floating, clearly she is not,” he added.

Rivera’s loved ones are reeling in the wake of her disappearance, as a team of police and divers work to locate the actress.

“Nobody has heard anything,” a source, who was close to the actress during her time on the hit FOX series, told PEOPLE earlier Thursday. “Everybody is in a wait-and-see pattern and trying to figure out exactly what happened.”