OCEANSIDE — Lifeguard David Wilson was honored this week for a heroic water rescue that saved a life.
The rescue occurred July 17, 2016. Wilson was on unit patrol at Harbor Beach tower 14 along with veteran lifeguard Mike Wagner.
“It was a pretty busy day,” Wilson said.
He began his day instructing students in the Junior Lifeguard Program. He then continued to put in patrol hours due to sizable summer crowds and rough seas.
Earlier that afternoon he was part of several land and sea rescues, including getting a child out of a locked sweltering car.
Then came a distress call about a solo jet skier crashed on the jetty at the mouth of the harbor. The location of the accident is nicknamed the “devil’s triangle” due to the dangers the rock jetty poses.
Wilson responded and found the man thrown off the jet ski, semiconscious, wedged between two boulders and unable to free himself. He attempted to free the man as consistent sets of pounding waves hit him and the victim.
While Wilson aided the victim a city harbor officer pulled up in a patrol boat and lent a hand in the difficult rescue. The two were able to put a lifejacket under the victim’s head as a buoy.
To set the man free, Wilson needed to dive underwater and release the victim’s legs. Eventually the pair dislodged the man, but not without getting knocked down by waves and enduring some major scrapes from the surrounding rocks, which Wilson described as a cheese grater.
“It seemed forever, we got beat up pretty well, yelling ‘brace’ between waves,” Wilson said.
A city firefighter arrived and the three pulled the victim from the rocks between sets of waves, up onto a stretcher and to an awaiting air ambulance. Due to HIPPA privacy laws the name of the victim has not been released.
“No doubt that without his iron effort, knowledge and skill in the ocean environment, a life would have been lost,” Capt. Bill Curtis, Oceanside Fire Department Lifeguard Division, said.
“David knowingly placed himself in harm’s way with one goal and an incredible outcome.”
For most the work day would end there, but Wilson showered off his cut leg and returned to duty to help with an issued code five alert. That afternoon he pulled 20 people from the harbor’s choppy waters.
“It’s one of the crazier situations I’ve been in,” Wilson said.
Code five rescue operations involved every lifeguard on duty. Wilson said to aid multiple people in distress his partner paddled out on a rescue board, directed a group of five people to hold on and Wilson swam two of them at a time into shore.
“It was a good day with a positive outcome,” Wilson said.
Despite his long day and injuries Wilson was at the Junior Lifeguard Program the following morning instructing potential future guards.
The recognition ceremony for his heroism took place in Sacramento on Sept. 25. Out of 21 applicants Wilson was the only one to receive the prestigious Governor’s Public Safety Medal of Valor this year.
Wilson grew up in Oceanside and has served as a city lifeguard since 2012. He just completed criminal justice studies and plans to pursue a career as a State Beach peace officer ranger/lifeguard.
He said his career path was inspired by fellow Oceanside lifeguards whose rescues have become legend.
“There aren’t a lot of people in this profession who get recognized for their amazing feats,” Wilson said. “I’m beyond blessed being able to do this.”
Last year Oceanside beaches saw more than 4 million visitors. Lifeguards prevented more than 82,000 accidents and performed in excess of 3,000 water rescues.