A bluff collapse at Grandview Surf Beach killed three adult beachgoers and injured two others in the Leucadia neighborhood of Encinitas on Aug. 2.
The collapse happened shortly before 3 p.m. and left a pile of dirt and rock up to 10 feet in height.
Two of the victims were identified the next day as Encinitas residents Anne Clave, 35, and her mother Julie Davis, 65, according to a report released by the San Diego County Medical Examiner’s Office.
Both victims died after being transported to local hospitals. The third victim, who was pronounced dead at the scene, was later identified by the Medical Examiner’s Office as 62-year-old Elizabeth Charles, Clave’s aunt and Davis’ sister.
Charles had previously been identified by multiple news outlets as Elizabeth Cox.
Brad Hanson, who lives down the street from the incident, said a sudden swarm of emergency personnel raised an alarm that something was wrong.
“We’ve only had activity like this two or three times in the last three or four years,” Hanson said. “The whole neighborhood was alerted to what was going on. It was pretty dramatic.”
Down on the beach, a chaotic scene was unfolding, as five people were pulled from the pile of dirt and rock, according to Encinitas Fire Chief Mike Stein.
Hanson said the area is in need of sand replenishment, which is when sand is brought in from an outside source to restore what has been lost through erosion. The city of Encinitas began a sand replenishment project in February, but Hanson said the area where the collapse occurred has not received any.
“I hate it … it’s tough … I don’t even go to my own beach anymore because it’s so dangerous,” Hanson said.
Any new sand that ends up on Grandview Beach can only come from its natural southward flow, according to Encinitas’ acting City Manager Jennifer Campbell, who released a statement to The Coast News which attributed the collapse to “the natural erosion process characteristic of California beaches,” and explained that Grandview Beach is “considered a sensitive marine habitat and is not a permitted area for direct sand placement.”
The city said it would need to get a permit from five different agencies, including the United States Army Corps of Engineers and the California State Coastal Commission, in order to place sand in an area designated as marine protected – something determined by the vegetation and animal and plant life located there.
Further, the city said it would not speculate on whether direct sand replenishment to the area could have prevented the collapse.
Signs warning of unstable cliffs dot the area, including one visible from where the collapse occurred, and more signage has been added in wake of the accident.
“Our coastline is a beautiful area, but the coastline is eroding,” Encinitas Lifeguard Capt. Larry Giles said.
The city also highlights the potential for bluff failures on its website, which has a section dedicated to marine safety.
“Please be aware that in most areas hiking near or directly on top of the bluffs is prohibited. It is also important for visitors to avoid standing or sitting directly underneath unstable bluffs, since they may collapse,” it reads.
Emergency crews from multiple city fire departments — some armed with shovels — surrounded the site after the Aug. 2 collapse. A yellow tarp lay over a large chunk of rock, while left-behind towels, beach chairs and umbrellas sat close by.
Onlookers surrounded the area, including Carlsbad resident Robert Rossbach, who said things like this shouldn’t occur during what is supposed to be a happy outing.
“I feel bad and terrible for these people that were there, it’s just an awful thing to happen when you go to the beach to have fun,” Rossbach said.
A service-dog team was brought in to aid in a search for additional victims potentially trapped under the pile — which measured approximately 25 by 30 feet — but no more bodies were found.
“I’m surprised that more people didn’t get killed or hurt, because there were quite a bit of people in that area,” Rossbach said.
Eventually, a skip loader truck came to help with the search, cleanup and removal of the debris.
Officials closed the beach in both directions as a safety precaution. It was reopened the next day, however, the area of the collapse remains cordoned off and a lifeguard station located in the immediate area has since been moved further away.
This story was updated at 10:03 p.m. on Aug. 2 to show the death toll increase from one to three.
This story was updated at 6:07 p.m. on Aug. 3 to show the names of two of the victims, that no more bodies were found and that the beach has since been reopened.
This story was updated at 4:05 p.m. on Aug. 5 to show the name of the third victim, to provide more information about the city vocalizing bluff danger and to provide a comment from Encinitas Lifeguard Capt. Larry Giles.
This story was updated at 3 p.m. on Aug. 6 to clarify the name of the third victim, to include statements from the city and acting City Manager Jennifer Campbell and to provide more information on the process behind direct sand replenishment in the city and in the direct area of the collapse.
This is a developing story and will be updated as more information comes in.
City News Service contributed to this story
Top Photo Caption: Carlsbad firefighters stand near the site of a bluff collapse at Grandview Surf Beach on Aug. 2. Three adults were killed in the collapse while two others were injured. Photos by Abraham Jewett