Seal Rock Fire-Rescue scrambled fast Wednesday evening to save the life of a young boogey-board surfer who was caught in a rip current.
Fire fighters were in a training session at the fire hall when the report came in that a father and his two sons, vacationing from Washington, got into trouble off Quail Drive, just south of the Seal Rock business district.
Arriving rescuers quickly learned that a 17 year old male was out with his brother and father boogey-boarding when he got caught in an outgoing rip current. The boy quickly disappeared into the rapidly incoming fog. The father and other brother immediately tried to regain sight of him but couldn’t. They called 9-1-1 and Seal Rock Fire-Rescue immediately began the search. Meanwhile the boy managed to cut loose from the rip current and made his way back toward the beach but grew tired and cold. He climbed up on a rock to rest, but was so weak at that point that he fell 12′ back into the surf. Fortunately Seal Rock Fire-Rescue was there to scoop him up and haul him into shore.
On the beach they got him out of his wet suit and saw that he was already turning blue from low body temperature. He’d also swallowed a pretty good amount of sea water.
They quickly wrapped him in warm blankets and prepared him for a quick ambulance ride to PCH in Newport. Once there, hospital staff continued the warming process and placed him in intensive care. They also treated him for possible exposure to fecal material in the water which had been a problem last week – human exposure to the water banned by the state health department due high fecal levels along Seal Rock beaches. That ban had been lifted last Friday.
Seal Rock Fire Chief Tracy Shaw told News Lincoln County that the father was about to call it a day with his sons – nervous about the incoming fog. It was then that the boy went missing. Shaw also noted that the boy was wearing just a thin wet suit, not designed for Oregon’s seriously cold ocean waters. On top of that Chief Shaw noted that the wet suit did not properly fit the boy – it hung loose, which allowed cold water to enter it, thereby speeding up the process of hypothermia.
Chief Shaw said most surfers along the Central Coast use wet suits three and four times the thickness of what the boy wore and that because of the loose fit the suit couldn’t do its job of keeping the wearer warm. Chief Shaw says wet suits are designed to create a thin layer of water between the wearer’s skin, a layer that acts as extra insulation between the wearer and the outside water. So, ironically, in this case, the wet suit accelerated the boys’s hypothermia instead of preventing it. Hopefully lesson learned. Make sure a wet suit is thick enough and that it fits SNUG everywhere on the body. A loose wetsuit is just as much of a hypothermia death sentence as no suit at all.