‘Circumstantial luck’ saves drowning man

OCEANSIDE — Five people were knocked off the outer jetty outside of Oceanside Harbor on Saturday around 11:30 a.m. and three were injured, one seriously, according to the Oceanside Fire Department.

“The most seriously injured, a late 40s active-duty member of the U.S. Air Force, was quickly picked up by a passing Jet Ski and taken to the fuel dock inside Oceanside Harbor,’’ Oceanside Fire Battalion Chief Pete Lawrence said.

”Once there, waiting firefighter paramedics, lifeguards and police officers stabilized the injured airman and transported him by ambulance to the Oceanside Airport, where he was then taken the rest of the way to Scripps La Jolla.’’

The driver of the Jet Ski, Cardiff-by-the-Sea resident Johnny Kessel, said it was chance that he and his friend, Chuck Glynn, had been going by.

“We were just circumstantially lucky to be there and I think the outcome would have been a lot different if there weren’t boats around,” Kessel said.

They had finished surfing near the Del Mar Jetties in Camp Pendleton and were going through the harbor when a man in an outrigger canoe started pointing to the jetty and yelling.

They saw a man, in his 40s, badly beaten up and struggling to stay afloat.

Kessel had a rescue sled on the back of his ski to use while surfing and was able to use it to save the man.

“We had to kind of time the surge and I eventually managed to back the ski up, close into the middle of the rocks. Those rocks have giant boulders and they’ve got these big gaps and this guy was inside of one of these gaps holding on for dear life and he didn’t want to let go,” Kessel said.

“Eventually, Chuck got the guy to hold on to the sled he was obviously in a lot of pain and yelling and screaming and crying,” Kessel said.

He said the man was in really bad condition, with head wounds, and what looked like a broken collarbone and cuts on his leg.

“I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy,” Kessel said.

The man was knocked off of a jetty on the Camp Pendleton side, which was closed after the incident.

“If anybody can learn from this, it’s that if the rocks are wet, you may want to turn around because the rocks are wet for a reason,” Kessel said.

Because of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, representatives from the Oceanside Fire Department could not release the injured man’s condition or name.

The area had been on a high surf advisory over the weekend, with wave faces reaching about 10 to 12 feet, Kessel said.

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