A confusing yet scary situation transpired earlier this week near a San Diego cove when a good portion of a local high school swim team found themselves having to be rescued from what they anticipated would be an uneventful annual open water training swim.
Despite reportedly being warned of the water’s ‘tough conditions’ by La Jolla cove lifeguards, nearly 24 members of the Rancho Verde High School, along with their coaches, moved ahead with their planned ½ mile swim. According to onlookers and officials, however, within 10 minutes of entering the water, several of the swimmers were seen raising their hands and signaling for help.
With water temperatures between 57 and 60 degrees along with wind gusts between 11.5 and 17 mph, the water was extremely choppy, quickly making swimming difficult for even the strongest athlete. “A couple of them started to panic which triggered other ones to get a little bit scared and it just snowballed into a mass rescue,” San Diego Lifeguard Sgt. Ed Harris told ABC News.
2 students were taken to the hospital, one of whom was actually unconscious, likely from cold exposure and swallowing too much water. She was released later that night. 8 other swimmers were treated at the scene for the same issues.
Now San Diego fire officials and the school district are offering differing accounts of the situation. According to ABC News, the school district said students and coaches had met with lifeguards prior to the swim, with lifeguard suggesting they postpone the swim. However, the lifeguards were told by the coaches that the student-athletes could indeed handle the swim.
“We wouldn’t advise a group this big to go in with the conditions we were experiencing,” said San Diego Lifeguard Lt. John Sandmeyer, who oversees the city’s lifeguard division.
“You can be the strongest swimmer in a pool and not be used to chop in your face, not to be used to the cold water when you go from 76-degree pool to 59-degree ocean.”
“They spoke to the coach and she said they did the swim the previous year and had no problem,” Sandmeyer said. “The truth is a disaster was averted.”
Chris Wynn, a Val Verde school district spokesman maintains, however, said the students provided written statements about what happened after they returned to the school 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. They said they were asked to get of the water by lifeguards.”