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Girl Caught in Rip Current Near Santa Monica Pier May Not Survive
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Convention and Visitors Bureau Santa Monica

By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

March 29, 2016 -- Chances of survival are bleak for a teenage girl rescued Saturday following a search by air, land and sea after she waded a few feet into the ocean waters near the Santa Monica Pier and was suddenly sucked under by a rip current, a lifeguard said Monday.

The girl was submerged almost an hour before she could be lifted from the water by lifeguards, who were guided to her by both a helicopter overhead and, initially, swimmers in the crowded waters who saw her go under just after noon, said Spencer Parker, an ocean specialist for the Los Angeles County Fire Department, which oversees lifeguards.

“That’s a long time to be submerged,” Parker said. “The likelihood of survival is probably small.”

The girl was rushed to UCLA Health Center-Santa Monica. Ted Braun, a spokesperson there, said no information about the girl could be released.

The incident occurred near both the Pier and Lifeguard Tower 15, which was manned at a time when not all of Los Angeles County’s estimated 158 lifeguard stations are staffed because crowds during March are typically smaller than other months, Spencer said.

It was also the second time in slightly more than two weeks that the Pier’s waters were the site of such aggressive rescue efforts -- although the first reported victim was never located at all.

The first effort took place March 12 and deployed rescue boats, a helicopter and emergency crews to find a man last seen at about 3 a.m. clinging to a pylon in the waters below the Santa Monica Pier.

Harbor Patrol officers responding to a report of a swimmer in distress near the pier found a person who was hanging over the Pier’s railing, looking at someone in the water, officials said.

The reported swimmer was never actually seen by the Harbor Patrol, an official there said, and has not been located since. No missing person reports have been connected to the reported swimmer, who witnesses said was a man dressed in black clothing.

Like the currents near the Pier, the waters beneath it also are dangerous, officials have said. The current there can also be strong and barnacles around the pillars supporting the Pier itself can cause injuries by slicing into skin.

But Parker said both incidents stem from a central, deadly reality: Once people are pulled under roiling waters, such as those around the Pier, it is sometimes impossible to find them again.

“There are strong (crossing) currents,” he said. “Where someone goes down doesn’t mean that’s where they’ll be found. Sometimes, they aren’t found, no matter how heavy the search efforts are.”

Saturday’s incident happened quickly. Parker said the girl was fully dressed and only stepped a few feet into the water before being caught in a rip current -- a channel of churning and choppy water often found near structures like piers and particularly common here during the Spring months.

Rip currents are considered deadly because they catch swimmers or others in the water unaware and can pull victims out to sea.

Being fully clothed also dragged the teen down, Parker said. And she was a “non-swimmer,” he said, which is “pretty typical” of those visiting the beach near the Pier, an international destination for tourists.

Swimmers saw the girl go into the water, “take five or six steps and just drop,” Parker said.

Paramedics from the Santa Monica Fire Department were called at 12:47 p.m., said SMFD Capt. Dale Hallock. He said a number lifeguards, a lifeguard boat, a county Fire Department Helicopter and fire fighters were called in to search for the girl, Hallock said.

Parker said the helicopter located her, and she was brought to shore by lifeguards and given CPR by emergency workers at the scene before being rushed to the hospital.

Saturday was also part of an unusually warm Easter weekend, which drew crowds as large as those found at Santa Monica beaches and the rest of the Southland coast during the sweltering summer months.

“It was as busy as it gets,” Parker said of the crowd at the beach near the Pier. “But in Spring we’re not staffed as much.”

He said the crowds did not pose particular problems in Saturday’s rescue effort, though.

Rip currents are linked to an average of 46 drowning deaths each year in the U.S. They are described as strong channels of water that flow away from shore at beaches with surf.

They are particularly common in the Spring, Parker said, and they typically form at breaks in sandbars and near structures like piers and jetties.

Swimmers or floaters who are caught in the conflicting currents of a rip current can panic or exhaust themselves and drown by trying to swim against the flow of the water.

Lifeguards say the safest way to handle the hazardous currents is to stay calm, not to swim against them and to escape by swimming in a direction parallel to the shore.

If escaping by swimming fails, experts say to tread water until the current weakens and then swim at an angle away from the current toward the shore. They also urge victims to draw attention to themselves by facing the shore and calling or waving for help.

Also, they say, to never swim alone.

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