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Beach rescue snowballs in rough water

March 06, 2014|By Bryce Alderton
  • A couple retreats as a massive wave generated from a Pacific Ocean storm explodes on the rocks north of Victoria Beach, an area usually known for tranquil walks.
A couple retreats as a massive wave generated from a Pacific… (Don Leach, Coastline…)

As waves repeatedly crashed off Aliso Beach Park early Saturday afternoon, beachgoer Matthew Barker thought, "They couldn't have picked a worse day to go out in the water."

"They" being a 25-year-old Los Angeles woman and her male friend, who decided to brave what Barker called the most dangerous surf conditions he has seen in five years at the county-operated beach.

"They charged in through knee-deep water and started swimming out," Barker, 54, said. "They instantly started getting pounded by waves six, eight, 10 feet. I looked at my wife and said, 'Someone is going to die.'"

The man was pushed back to shore, where he grabbed his surfboard and headed back out to help the woman, Cynthia Hatfield. The surfer ended up in need of rescue himself.

Before it was over, there would be six who needed assistance back to shore, including the surfer, a good Samaritan and three lifeguards.

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Barker, a Capistrano Beach resident, arrived at Aliso Beach ready to surf but decided against it after seeing the rough water.

The lifeguard tower wasn't staffed Saturday afternoon when the Laguna Beach Marine Safety Department received a 911 call at 2:22 p.m., and emergency workers headed to the location.

"A county lifeguard saw a gal way offshore pulled out in a rip current and requested help," Laguna Beach Marine Safety Capt. Tom Trager said. "We responded, and she was about 400 yards offshore."

Hatfield was wearing a wetsuit but didn't have a board, Trager said.

A bodysurfer who Trager said was an adept swimmer headed toward Hatfield to join the county lifeguard and the surfer in the rescue effort.

The two civilians who tried to save Hatfield were identified by authorities as 28-year-old Chase Newsome of Huntington Beach and Brennon Clark, a 25-year-old Orange County resident. But officials said they don't know which man is the bodysurfer to whom Trager was referring.

Both tried to help Hatfield back to shore.

With four already in the water, two Laguna Beach lifeguards swam out and safely attached Hatfield to a rescue flotation device, Trager said.

Hatfield drifted beyond a reef, where the waves were breaking, making it dangerous for lifeguards to swim through the shoreline toward land, Trager said.

"You can't risk bringing victims through the surfline with the rocky outcroppings. There's no way to predict where you're going to go," Trager said. "Witnesses reported they were still taking waves 15 feet on the head."

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