“We realized the swell was building when the wave sets consistently began to roll in around eight feet,” said Mission Beach lifeguard Ashley Marino. “This, combined with the tight intervals, high tide and abnormally large winter beach crowd, made us realize we could have some potential for rescues. We had already warned several groups to please stay knee deep, because once they lost their footing, it was pretty tough to find the bottom again.”
While on patrol in her lifeguard vehicle, Marino caught sight of four teenage girls being swept off their feet by the surge of a powerful wave.
“Instantly, the main tower spotted it and radioed for me to head in,” she said. “[South Mission Beach lifeguard] Jeff Hatfield — who was luckily also there — threw off his T-shirt, grabbed his buoy and fins and sprinted in. I followed about 10 seconds behind.”
Three of the four girls found their footing, fought the crashing waves and made it safely ashore. The fourth, however, was in obvious trouble after being pulled into the impact zone where she was pounded by wave after wave, said Marino.
“I could see Hatfield swimming toward her then a wave doubled up, first pushing her under, then pushing Hatfield back a few feet. I ducked under the wave, kicking up into a swim sprint again until I had caught up to Hatfield. Our victim was only about 10 feet in front when another wave crashed down on us,” said Marino.
After five long seconds, the victim resurfaced and the lifesaving duo was ready to float the fatigued and breathless young woman safely ashore using a rescue can.
“Once we began to attempt swimming in, we all got pounded by another few waves, pushing us all down toward the bottom,” said Marino. “The girl was jolted out of my arms, but I caught her shirt while we were under and began kicking us toward the surface again. We popped up to the surface all gasping for breath, once again, reassuring [the victim] that it was OK and we were almost in.
“It was very difficult to bring her in because she couldn't hold onto our rescue can due to fatigue, so I had her up against my chest and the rescue can under both of us. Jeff Hatfield had hold of the both of us and was pulling and kicking as I was kicking. After a few minutes of this, we finally felt the bottom with our feet and both struggled to maintain our hold as the current tried to push us back again.”
Lifeguard Brian Clark also assisted in the rescue, keeping an eye on the victim from his bird’s-eye view in the observation tower.
“This Thanksgiving, I was thankful that Jeff Hatfield and I both happened to be at that spot on the beach just then; thankful for my health and physical fitness, that Jeff and I were able to get to her on time; and thankful that [the victim’s] family got the call she was alive after a very scary experience,” said Marino.