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Pribram rescues woman

Surfer, environmentalist, columnist saves Irvine woman from drowning. They reunite days after the incident.

April 07, 2011|By Joanna Clay, joanna.clay@latimes.com
  • Maira Khan, left, looks on at the rocks at Woods Cove, where she nearly drowned before James Pribram, right, rescued her after she fell from rocks.
Maira Khan, left, looks on at the rocks at Woods Cove, where… (DON LEACH, Coastline…)

Maira Khan was somewhat apprehensive as she walked along the sand at Pearl Street Beach on Wednesday night.

A few days before she had been saved from the waters that were creeping in toward her.

She was there to meet the man who rescued her, local surfer James Pribram.

Khan, her friend Meghan Mathur, 22, and her brother Aadil, 14, decided to head down to Laguna for a walk on the beach Sunday afternoon. Climbing onto the rocks, near what locals call the "blowhole" or "Volkswagen," Khan posed for pictures.

Mathur looked down to fiddle with the camera. When she looked up, Khan was gone.

Knocked down by a wave, Khan was gripping the side of the rock, hoping to stay connected to it as long as she could.

She locked eyes with Mathur and said, "I don't know how to swim."

Mathur and Aadil started telling people on the beach, asking people to call 911 and hoping a strong swimmer could help.

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While they went for help, Khan was being knocked under water. Stuck under a bridge of two rocks, Khan hit her head trying to get to the surface. Her arms, legs and feet showed scrapes and abrasions Wednesday.

"It was the scariest moment of my life," Mathur of Irvine said. "At first I didn't think everything was going to be OK. I thought she would drown."

Mathur and Aadil felt defenseless. They both knew how to swim but the reefs posed challenges, and they thought they would only make the dangerous situation worse.

While in the water, Khan said she remembered a story she heard in elementary school of a man who survived in the ocean by staying calm, holding his breath and occasionally coming up for air.

"I don't know how I remembered it," she said. "I'm just happy it stuck."

An unidentified elderly man attempted to help several times but he wasn't able to pull Khan out. According to police, he was Lake Elsinore resident Mike Oshea.

Pribram, a columnist for the Coastline Pilot, was on the balcony of his parents' beachfront home when he noticed the commotion. As he ran to the beach, a man told him that Khan couldn't swim. He knew he had to get to her quickly, diving between rocks and out to ocean, to pull her in.

When he reached Khan, she was bleeding and coughing up water.

"I wanted to grab her and take that all away from her," he said.

As they reunited Wednesday, Khan's family in tow, she was upbeat as they recounted her near-death experience. Before Pribram came, she said, she thought she might die.

However, she said, she wasn't going without a fight.

"I couldn't give up," she said. "I fought for my life."

Pribram hopes people can learn from Khan's ordeal.

"I think her story can bring awareness about the dangers of the ocean," he said.

Pribram, who runs Aloha Surfing School, offered to give her a few lessons.

Khan said she wants to learn to swim, but she's taking a couple months off from the waves.

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