High school swimmers rescued off La Jolla

LA JOLLA — San Diego lifeguards rescued 20 Moreno Valley-area high school swim team members from the ocean off La Jolla Tuesday when they had trouble making a long-distance swim.

One student was taken to a hospital and was expected to be released, and paramedics treated at least seven others who swallowed too much water or became chilled.

The mass rescue involved 62 swimmers from Rancho Verde High School in Moreno Valley

Lifeguards had given an ocean safety talk to the students and coaches before they set out from La Jolla Cove to swim toward a buoy a half-mile out into the ocean, lifeguard Lt. John Sandmeyer said.

As the dozens of swimmers set off, some ran into difficulties because of the gusting winds and choppy surf. Some drifted north and were rescued close to La Jolla Shores about 1 p.m. The water was about 59 degrees, and the waves were about 2 to 4 feet tall, and winds gusted from 11.5 to 17 mph, San Diego Fire-Rescue Department spokesman Lee Swanson said.

Lifeguards helped 20 students back to the beach between the Cove and the Shores and additional swimmers straggled to shore wherever they could. They were gathered at Kellogg Park and all were accounted for, Swanson said.

He said most of the swimmers were fine, and were showering on the beach before joining the others.

Lifeguards coordinated with coaches who had a list of all the students as they confirmed that each swimmer was safe.



  • NiekNiek Heiloo, NetherlandsCharter Member

    Only a 1 mile swim in not to cold water.

    This article raises a lot of questions.
    1/ did they swim in openwater before?
    2/ did they know how to cope with currents?
    3/ did they have any experience with cold water?
    4/ did they know how to sight in choppy conditions?
    5/ did they have any safety boat(s) along with those 62 swimmers?
    6/ do the coaches know the difference between pool and openwater swimming???

    http://openwaterswimming.eu - Cold, wind, waves, sunburn, currents, jellyfish and flotsam! Hop in and join the fun!

  • SharkoSharko Sonoma County, CACharter Member

    Let's let Dan from La Jolla give us his input...but I agree with what Neik said above...wondering how experienced lifeguards could not spot the difficiencies of the swimmers... a couple of shorter test swims in different conditions would have sorted this out with some watchful eyes of school coaches and lifeguards...pretty strange...but maybe pool swimmers "only" is the problem...not sure since I was the other way around...


    "I never met a shark I didn't like"

  • NiekNiek Heiloo, NetherlandsCharter Member

    Follow-up story:
    San Diego fire officials and a school district spokesman gave differing accounts Wednesday, March 30, about the rescue of 20 swimmers from Rancho Verde High School in Moreno Valley the day before.

    Rescuers said several students needed help, but a school spokesman said they were asked to get out of the water. Meanwhile, a former Inland swim coach questioned the wisdom of ocean swimming for inexperienced swimmers.

    One female student was pulled from the water unconscious and sent to the hospital Tuesday, March 29, after a beach training exercise in La Jolla, said Lee Swanson, spokesman for the San Diego Fire Rescue Department.

    She had likely suffered “cold exposure and probably swallowed some water,” Swanson said. She was released from the hospital Tuesday evening.

    “The truth is a disaster was averted,” said Lt. John Sandmeyer of the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department, which oversees the city’s lifeguard division.

    A half dozen other students were rescued and evaluated for cold water exposure while others were struggling and had to be helped out of the water, Sandmeyer said.

    The swimmers set out from La Jolla Cove planning to swim about a mile to La Jolla Shore, he said.

    Lifeguards tried to talk the coaches out of the swim because of the “tough conditions,” Sandmeyer said.

    “They spoke to the coach and she said they did the swim the previous year and had no problem,” Sandmeyer said.

    The water temperature was 59 degrees, surf was 2 to 4 feet and the wind was 10 to 15 knots, Swanson said.

    “I don’t know if I can call it dangerous,” he said. “Clearly some of these kids were in conditions that were beyond their swimming ability.”

    Within 10 minutes of entering the water, several were raising their hands and signaling for help, he said.

    Rancho Verde head swim coach Genevieve Barrow and Mustangs athletic director Travis Showalter declined to comment Wednesday, March 30, referring questions to Val Verde Unified School District officials.

    Chris Wynn, a Val Verde spokesman, said the students provided written statements about what happened after they returned to campus Tuesday evening. The situation wasn’t as bad it’s being made out to be, Wynn said.

    “Most students said they weren’t pulled out,” Wynn said. “They said they were asked to get of the water by lifeguards.”

    http://openwaterswimming.eu - Cold, wind, waves, sunburn, currents, jellyfish and flotsam! Hop in and join the fun!

  • wendyv34wendyv34 Vashon, WASenior Member

    As a lifeguard, the thought of multiple swimmers in trouble like this gives me a tummy ache!


    It's always a bad hair day when you work at a pool.

  • dpm50dpm50 PA, U.S.Senior Member

    That's a LOT of people to supervise! Granted, they're on a swim team so perhaps it was reasonable to suppose that they could handle more than the average swimmer. But combine cold temps, surf, and currents, and things get dicey even for strong pool swimmers not used to such conditions. I was in an ocean mile last year that felt pretty scary even though I have o.w. experience.

  • MikeHMikeH Member

    What the hell - who was supervising these kids? It sounds like whomever that was didn't know what they were doing. A 59 degree open water swim isn't something to wing on a hope and a prayer if you aren't prepared specifically for it.

  • wendyv34wendyv34 Vashon, WASenior Member

    A lot of kids who swim on their HS team are not club swimmers. I've guarded plenty of HS meets and I wouldn't send 80% of those kids out in the ocean. If you've been to many OWS that allow kids, you will see some percentage of them be overwhelmed enough by the difference between pool and OW that they will quit or have to be rescued, even though they can dish out a whoopin' in the pool. It's up to the coaches to prepare their swimmers to get outside the box and not just assume that because a kid went to state champs, s/he is going to be fine out in the open.


    It's always a bad hair day when you work at a pool.

  • wendyv34wendyv34 Vashon, WASenior Member

    In fact, I recall a swim I took with a young lady (HS senior, bound for college swim team) across our harbor. She's considerably faster than me in the pool, so I was surprised that she didn't drop me right away. Then she slid back by my hip and I figured she was comfortable following. I kept thinking she was right there because I could feel her wake, then I looked over and noticed she'd been replaced by a seal. I checked back and one of the kayakers was with her, so I went on across, following the main escort boat. I was below deck getting changed when she swam up, shrieking in terror. I went up to see what was going on and she was surrounded by seals. I almost jumped back in, since it looked like fun... but she was terrified.

    EW! Something touched my leg! OMG!


    It's always a bad hair day when you work at a pool.

  • DanSimonelliDanSimonelli San Diego CASenior Member
    edited April 2016

    I happened to be there that day and watched it all from above.

    As is often the case (and the older I get and more I experience with media, it seems always the case), news coverage is spotty and inaccurate! Gotta hype up the story!

    There wasn't any current. It was a bit choppy (mostly left over from day before), maybe 6-12inches, wasn't that windy (definitely not "10-15kts"!), and no waves at the Cove. But, 59 degree water was the main factor that created the problem for the few swimmers that were assisted (and I use "assisted" purposely because "rescue" has a stronger connotation, and that's not what I perceived). I was an ocean LG. I know they count any contact as "rescue".

    Having said all that, they certainly didn't have adequate support themselves. Rather, (and in contrast to official statements), LGs gave them a briefing (LGs may have suggested they not go in, but if they felt that strongly about it, they could've disallowed it), and they formed a plan for any swimmer(s) needing help or fellow swimmers to stop and raise hand to signal.

    For me and the groups I coordinate, that's the line. If I need LG assistance, than I didn't have enough support planned on my own.

    So, they certainly didn't prepare accordingly or sufficiently.

    However, all but a few were fine. They swam across and did well. There were several stragglers from the beginning who didn't get far, maybe around 1/4 mile buoy, and got rides back in to Cove (where they started) on LG paddle boards.

    So, it wasn't a big, frantic rescue operation. Those that were pulled were all fine upon exit, meaning they didn't need any assistance rewarming.

    There were a few on the other side who received some attention for short time and then were fine.

    So, I'm not excusing the staff for their less than adequate safety plan. But, "averted a disaster" is a bit hyperbolic.

  • Dan Simonelli ruining a good story with the facts. :-)

  • flystormsflystorms Memphis, TNMember

    I grew up in this area of SoCal and Moreno Valley is very much an inland town and about 90+ minute drive from San Diego. I can almost guarantee most of these kids don't hit the ocean very often, let alone in sinter/spring. While I think the coach was probably trying something fun and different for his team, it doesn't' sound like it was a well-thought out plan, eh?

  • NiekNiek Heiloo, NetherlandsCharter Member
    edited April 2016

    @flystorms said: While I think the coach was probably trying something fun and different for his team, it doesn't' sound like it was a well-thought out plan, eh?

    The only positive thing I saw in the picture was that they had no wetsuits on.
    But maybe here it would have been appropriate?

    http://openwaterswimming.eu - Cold, wind, waves, sunburn, currents, jellyfish and flotsam! Hop in and join the fun!

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