High Surf Nearly Sweeps Family of Four to Sea
High surf and sneaker waves nearly caused the death of four people unaware of the ocean’s deadly beauty February 26. They now have CA State Park Seasonal Lifeguard II Aaron Pendergraft and Sonoma County Sheriff’s Helicopter Henry-1 to thank for another day’s breath of life. This near tragedy occurred in Sonoma County’s Goat Rock State Beach when these four people were pulled into the water by a large wave.
Were it not for Pendergrxaft’s quick response coupled with the aid of Sonoma County Sheriff’s Helicopter Henry-1 the ending to this story would have been horribly different.
Henry 1 provides a combination of five functions to the community: firefighting, long line rescue, search and rescue, aerial law enforcement and advanced life support air ambulance.
CA State Life Guards and Henry 1 to the Rescue
Several family members visiting Goat Rock Beach were walking along the beach’s edge when a large wave struck the family members causing them to be swept out into the rough surf. The high surf that day was expected reach 40 feet. Another family member entered the water to render aid and all parties became distressed in the rough condition of the surf. The rescue is described by California State Lifeguards on Friday, February 26, 2016:
A bystander grabbed one victim while two more and their mother were pulled out into the 10-12 foot surf. Pendergraft immediately responded to the rescue at the north end of the beach near the Russian River. As Pendrgraft swam through the shore pound, one of the children reached shore on their own. Pendergraft secured the mother and her daughter into his rescue buoy.
The surf was too large to safely bring the victims through the shore break, so Pendergraft maneuvered outside the breaking waves and awaited the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Helicopter Henry-1. The Henry-1 crew retrieved one victim at a time. Aaron, only in his lifeguard reds, was the last plucked from the 53 degree ocean. He had been in the water nearly a half hour. All of the victims were transported to local hospitals, and Lifeguard Pendergraft was transported to Sutter Santa Rosa Regional Hospital for treatment of hypothermia. Lifeguard Aaron Pendergraft saved two people today, and he deserves our most sincere, “Well done.”
Post Script: State Parks Lifeguards would like to thank the citizen who used the patrol radio to give updated information to the dispatcher. The crew of Henry-1, CAL-Fire, Bodega Bay Fire Department, Russian River Fire Protection, and the Monte Rio Fire Department. As of this post, Pendergraft has been released from the hospital with no restrictions.
Another High Surf Near Tragedy
Another incident occurred at Goat Rock State Beach in Sonoma County that same day. This time a 39 year-old woman went to the water’s edge to get her feet wet when a large wave from the high surf knocked her down, and the receding water pulled her into a strong flowing rip current.
Again, California State Park Seasonal Lifeguards responded to the emergency. Gregg Knapp radioed critical information about the rescue as his partner, David Birdwell, swam to the woman’s aid. By the time Knapp made contact, the woman was already fifty yards off shore. Bodega Bay Fire Department personnel also responded to the rescue, and the ambulance transported the woman to Sutter Hospital in Santa Rosa, CA.
A Million Thanks, Times a Million
Our California State Parks Lifeguards working the northern areas of the state must contend with cold water and big surf. Our helicopter rescue teams must be daring as they bring the victims of our high surf safely to shore. Yesterday, their diligence saved lives.
View the rescue of the family of four:
A write up in the local paper, The Press Democrat, can be found here:
“I told this family not to go swimming. Twenty minutes later they are swept away. So stupid!”
It is indeed “So Stupid” to not appreciate and respect the ocean’s deadly beauty. You risk not only your lives, but also the lives of innocent bystanders who may rush to your aid only to become victims too.
A respect and understanding of the power of the ocean will help keep you, your family, your friends and pets safe while enjoying the rugged beauty of our north coast.
Dogs and High Surf
Dogs can and have been swept out to sea by the high surf and sneaker waves too. Many owners have died while attempting to rescue their pets playing in the surf.
“We love our dogs and will do anything to save them – but we must guard against the instinct to jump into the surf,” said Allison Lindquist, executive director of the East Bay SPCA. –See more.
Bottom line – most dogs are better swimmers than their two-legged masters. The compact center of mass in relation to their long limbs and an elevated head and neck make many breeds good swimmers in the calm water.
The problem here on our north coast is the water is rarely calm. In fact, during the winter months, it’s outright dangerous.
High Surf Sneaker Waves: Beach Safety Tips
Before you go to the beach learn these tips to keep you safe from high surf and sneaker waves.
Play it save – Plan Ahead- Be Ever Vigilant.
1. ALWAYS expect sneaker waves!
They’re called sneaker waves because that’s just what they do. They appear without warning, often surging high up on the beach with deadly force.
Sneaker waves have enough force to knock you down and drag you into the ocean. They are impossible to predict. They will appear even on relatively calm days, striking when you are not aware or not looking.
Sneaker waves also carry a large amount of sand that can saturate your clothes, weighing you down and making escape difficult if not impossible.
They are especially prevalent during the winter months. They frequently occur durning stormy weather.
The horrible truth is many have been killed by the combination of numbing cold water, turbulent high surf and rip currents. On average, four people drown from sneaker waves every year on Northern California beaches.
Don’t be the next one.
How to play it safe: NEVER turn your back on the ocean.
2. Watch for Rising Tides
Rising tides cause waves to wash farther and farther up the beach and make even easier to be caught off guard by a sneaker wave. They can also cut off hiking trails around headlands forcing you to walk dangerously close to the surf.
Incoming tides isolate rocks from headlands and the shore. Refrain from exploring out to an interesting rock without knowing when the tide rolls back in. Free tide tables are readily available at state park offices, information centers and many shops.
How to play it safe: Before you go out to the beach check the tide charts and note the times for low and high tides and most especially when the tides will be changing.
3. Stay off Driftwood and Logs
4. Rip Currents
These currents can swiftly sweep unwary beachcombers and waders off their feet and out to sea.
How to play it safe:
- Put life vests on children if they are going to be in or near the water.
- Keep a constant and vigilant watch on the children and the waves.
- Keep children close to adults.
- Move everyone away from the wee if waves become larger.
- Remind them NEVER turn your back on the ocean.
If YOU go into the water
Whether for fun or by accident, when going in the water you may find yourself in trouble.:
- Stay calm. You will make better decisions and save your strength
- Call for help. Yell to catch the attention of someone onshore
- If you can, swim slowly and steadily to the beach.
If YOU are caught in a rip current, don’t panic.
Don’t fight the current. Swim parallel to the beach until you are out of the current, then head for the beach.
If SOMEONE ELSE goes into the water and they are in trouble:
- Stay Calm. You will make better decisions.
- Don’t go in the water. Most rescuers don’t survive! Keep an eye on the person in the water!
- Call 9-1-1. Use a cell phone or immediately send someone to the nearest phone to call for help.
5. Tsunami Hazards
YOU HAVE 2 MINUTES TO GET 100 FEET UP!
California is earthquake country. In fact you can walk along the San Andreas fault at the Sea Ranch* and see ridges and sag ponds that were formed by movement along the fault.
On occasion an earthquake may trigger a tsunami. If you feel an earthquake on the coast, no matter how small, immediately move to high ground or inland. Go to an area 100 feet above sea level or two miles inland away from the coast.
*Remember: The Sea Ranch is private property. Only residents and their guests (including guests staying at vacation rentals, such as Abalone Bay) have access to the trails. Otherwise you must contact the Sea Ranch Association for access.
How to play it safe: Your attitude and altitude will save you, your family, and your pets.
For notification of current Tsunami Warnings- click here: Tsunami Warning Center Map
Don’t let our north coast’s drama and beauty won’t become a scene for tragedy.
Play it safe and Plan Ahead
Be sure to share this post with others planning a trip to our dramatically beautiful north coast. We want to be sure they too come home safely.
Have you ever experienced our north coasts’ high surf, sneaker waves or rip currents? Share your stories below.
More on our ocean
THE OCEAN: EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW AS TOLD BY KIDS