The Del Norte County Sheriff’s Office (DNSO) Boating Safety Team saved a 70-year-old woman after she was swept off the jetty into the bay on Wednesday, Dec. 25 at approximately 8:30 a.m.
The woman was walking on the jetty, a structure that protrudes into the water to protect the harbor from storms, when waves pushed her into the water between the jetty and B Street Pier. She was able to climb onto the rocks adjacent to the jetty but was unable to pull herself back onto the jetty itself.
DNSO Sergeant Ortega of the Boating Safety Team, reached the subject via jet ski and was able to bring her back to the boat ramp safely. She was transported to Sutter Coast Hospital by ambulance but did not sustain any major injuries, according to Crescent City Police Department (CCPD) Chief Richard Griffin. However, she was very cold and headed towards hypothermia, according to CCPD Sergeant Edward Wilson.
“We always urge caution if you go out on the jetty. [There are] signs saying it is not safe for walking and warn about the sneaker waves, but it is a popular place to go out and look on the ocean. But as the tide comes up, have to be aware of sneaker waves and that is our guess as to what happened,” Sergeant Wilson said.
DNSO dispatcher Tom Betlejewski initially alerted the first responders after receiving a report of the incident. CCPD Officer Gill & Sergeant Wilson, DNSO Deputies Stevens and Morgan and YTP Officer (in-training) Kerr responded to the scene in just two to three minutes, according to Sergeant Wilson.
“Units were on scene quickly, but it is frustrating that we can’t run onto the jetty and get her ourselves. If we did that, we could get swept off and add to the problem,” Sergeant Wilson said. “We have to resist the temptation to try ourselves because we risk adding to the problem.”
The woman had a camera on her, so Chief Griffin assumes she was taking photographs and not paying attention to the so-called “sneaker” waves.
Crescent City Fire and Rescue, Del Norte Ambulance, Boating Safety and the U.S. Coast Guard were also dispatched, though the Coast Guard’s helicopter out of McKinleyville only made it halfway before the woman was rescued.
“In any of these cases where somebody goes into the water, time is the enemy because the water is so cold. Teamwork is the key in these cases,” said Commander Brendan Hilleary, chief of response at Coast Guard Sector Humboldt Bay.
“We see several a year [of] people getting swept of jetties and sneaker waves. It does not always end as successfully as this rescue did. The cold water makes it very difficult.
Sergeant Wilson said situations such as this occur a couple times a year in Crescent City, and he urges people to be safe around the water, especially during high tide.
“Just be cautious anytime you’re out on the jetty or local beaches. Sometimes the large waves will come seemingly out of nowhere and they can be dangerous,” Sergeant Wilson said.