Two people were rushed to the hospital on Sunday afternoon after being swept into the ocean by a powerful set of waves at Gray Whale Cove.
Coastside firefighters were called out to the beach around 2:30 p.m. on reports that three people had nearly drowned and needed emergency CPR. When they arrived, they found a large group of people surrounding an unresponsive adult female and two conscious men who had all been pulled out of the water.
The woman reportedly had been standing near the waterline at Gray Whale Cove when a wave hit her and knocked her off her feet.
San Bruno resident Manny Ponce said he and the woman’s son tried to help her stay afloat, but the water kept pulling her back. They soon found themselves also struggling in the tides. The waves were only about 6 feet high, Ponce said, but the undercurrents were the most powerful he had ever experienced.
“For a few minutes, I kept trying to help the mother, but at a certain point, I knew I had to try and save myself,” Ponce said. “The water was just too crazy.”
About a dozen beachgoers eventually formed a human chain in order to keep themselves safe and help pull the mother out of the water, Ponce said. They were able to grab her when she was washed close to shore.
As she was dragged onto the sand, the woman’s face was purple and she wasn’t breathing. Emergency officials performed CPR on the woman, and she regained a pulse, according to Coastside Fire Protection District officials.
The woman was taken by helicopter in critical condition to Stanford Medical Center, they said. She later died at the hospital, according to the Santa Clara County Coroner's Office. She was later identified as 68-year-old Karin Schmidt, a resident of Germany.
The woman's son recovered and he declined medical help. Ponce ingested a lot of water and was exhausted. Emergency crews considered him in stable condition but took him to the hospital as a precaution.
Officials warned of hazardous beach conditions throughout the weekend. The U.S. Coast Guard reported that swells could reach 13 feet high along the coastline due to a storm system coming off the Gulf of Alaska. Nonetheless, a heat spell over the weekend drew huge crowds to the beach.
The powerful waves were also in full force further to the south. A person at San Gregorio State Beach dislocated a shoulder on Sunday afternoon after being hit by a wave and knocked onto the sand.
The danger at the beach on Sunday was palpable, said State Parks lifeguard Jeff Wadkins. Throughout the day, he drove his truck up and down the coastline, warning people over his loudspeaker not to go anywhere near the waterline. It was a "lifeguard's nightmare," he said.
"It was hot weather and a beautiful day, and people were completely underestimating the power of the ocean," he said. "Lots of people were getting knocked off their feet by the large set waves."
Wadkins urged beachgoers not to attempt to swim out to rescue someone swept out by the ocean currents, unless they have training to do so. In such cases, rescuers could be putting themselves in danger, he warned. For water emergencies, Wadkins suggested the best option is to call 911 and to keep a close eye on where the victim is located at all times.