Dangerous Surf Conditions Prompt Rescue Surge in California

By Sabrina Elfarra

Jul 11, 2014 2:23pm

This summer has been an uncommonly busy one for Los Angeles County lifeguards with a 300 percent increase in rescues down the coast.

Last week, a lifeguard drowned in nearby Newport Beach while attempting to rescue a distressed swimmer, authorities said. He was the first lifeguard to have drowned on duty in the beach in a century.

“We’ve had virtually no winter weather this year and a big swell in the last few days,” Los Angeles County Lifeguard Section Chief Chris Linkletter told ABC News. “A combination of all that plus the recent holiday weekend have kept us slammed.”

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One spot that has caused a lot of trouble for lifeguards is a cove of cliffs in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif., where people like to jump and swim despite rough water.

“Social media has sensationalized rock jumping off these points,” said Linkletter. “It’s a beautiful nature reserve, so people are already out there to hike and some can’t resist the urge to jump in.”

The thrill-seekers are often caught off guard by how strong the waves are, prompting numerous rescues by lifeguards and onlookers. Just since July 1, lifeguards have had 50 rescues in that area, according to authorities.

A 19-year-old recently drowned in that cove, and searchers continue to look for his body using helicopters, boats and divers, authorities said. The young man, identified as Joseph Sanchez, was swimming with several friends when they became distressed in rough waters. The others tried to save Sanchez by throwing him a rope, but were unable to reach him, police said.

His friends posted condolence messages on Twitter.

City officials are asking swimmers to stay out of the waters off of Inspiration Point because of the strong currents.

“We’re leaving the hiking trail open, but we are closing the access points to the ocean,” said Linkletter. “We’re encouraging people to swim near lifeguard towers.”

Officials say the surge in rescues in Palos Verdes has taken the city by surprise.

“We lifeguards are used to being busy, but the city hasn’t had to cordon off areas and access to the beach before,” said Linkeletter. “They’ve made all these beautiful trails, but we need to let people know that it’s just not safe where the trails end.”

 

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Onlookers attempt to rescue a teen in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif. (Courtesy of Hillary Swanson)

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