The summer season that lures sun-seekers has seen multiple overhead south swells lighting up local beaches, and lifeguards making 220 rescues last weekend, far more than the 25 to 75 average.
Lifeguard Chief Kevin Snow, describing “a very busy weekend,” said it was due in part to warmer ocean water luring beach goers from the sand and an inconsistent swell. Lulls between sets make the ocean appear calm long enough for swimmers to get in harm’s way.
During Tuesday’s rough conditions, where red flags warning of extreme conditions were posted at Aliso Beach, Bryan Siglock died while scuba diving at Totuava Bay, less than a mile south. The 36-year-old Tustin man was in cardiac arrest when pulled from the surf and it is unclear if surf conditions contributed to his death.
A woman who lives in a condo above the beach called authorities and reported two divers being “tossed around,” as they tried to land on the rocks. The diver’s brother, who was diving with him, made it to shore, removed his dive gear and re-entered the water to rescue Siglock but by the time the pair made it to shore, the man was in full arrest, according to police Lt. Jason Kravetz. Resuscitation efforts by police, firefighters and lifeguards were unsuccessful. The diver was transported via helicopter to Mission Hospital where he was pronounced dead.
No lifeguards man towers at Totuava, though a guard watches neighboring 1,000 Steps Beach to the south. County beaches south of Aliso are guarded by personnel hired by U.S. Ocean Safety, a county contractor, while city guards staff beaches from Treasure Island to Crescent Bay.
High surf also complicated another rescue in north Laguna last Friday, July 8. Just before dark, four people were caught in narrow, rock-lined Whiskey Cove with a six-foot south swell and rising tide cutting off their exit. Lifeguards Scott Dietrich and Jack Bond, who entered the water at Crescent Bay, made contact with one man who had been swept to Seal Rock by the strong currents. While two men and a woman in their 20s had been stranded on the rocks between the cove and Crescent Bay, Bond found the man on Seal Rock exhausted and hypothermic with scrapes and cuts.
“He was at the point where if he didn’t have something to hang onto he wasn’t going to be around much longer,” said Dietrich, who requested fire department back up before entering the water with a paddleboard to transport the man 500 yards to the beach.
The effort was complicated by an area just shoreward from Seal Rock called the bone yard, an area of shallow rocks that causes waves to refract and hit a swimmer from four different directions.
Dietrich said, “to swim a victim out of that area is extremely hard, even for an expert swimmer.”
In addition, it was unclear how many people were in need of help. Firefighters acted as spotters for the lifeguards from the cliffs above the bay, and re-warmed the hypothermic man once he was brought ashore.
Dietrich then re-entered the water to guide the three others across the rocks from the water, while lifeguard Matt Grace assisted them from the rocks.
The extreme high tides and significant swell have eroded sand at many beaches, causing lifeguard towers at Oak Street and Sleepy Hollow, among others, to need repair, adding to the workload of the busy lifeguards.