Steve Hawk: Hero

posted by / News / June 22, 2005

Gray Whale Cove surfers are rescued from currentFor the third time in a month, emergency personnel rescued surfers caught in the ocean at Gray Whale Cove on Sunday.And for the third time in a month, those charged with keeping beachgoers safe are cautioning swimmers and surfers to beware of the area’s dangerous currents.Fire crews were dispatched to the Montara coast at approximately 5:30 Sunday afternoon. Firefighters from {{{Pacifica}}} and the Point Montara and Half Moon Bay fire protection districts, and San Mateo County Sheriff’s deputies were the first to arrive at the scene. They were followed by California State Parks lifeguards, the San Mateo County Harbor Patrol, and the United States Coast Guard.Upon arriving, firefighters found two men caught in the current.One surfer, Adam Bonskey, had been swept around the south point of Gray Whale Cove. The other one, Alex Lanni, was heading for the rocks at the south end of the cove.The surf was about five to six feet with a short wave period, making the water surface rough, according to the California Department of Parks and Recreation.Parks lifeguards said that Bonskey had become caught in a rip current and panicked, letting go of his surfboard.”Apparently he just didn’t realize he couldn’t swim against the current,” said lifeguard Eric Abma.

El Granada resident and surfer Steve Hawk then reached Bonskey on a surfboard and was able to calm and direct him south to another beach.A rescue team consisting of Abma and fellow lifeguard James Nothhelfer entered the water to retrieve Bonskey, guided by fire personnel from the cliff.

Hawk swam to shore after the lifeguards reached Bonskey in the water, Abma said.”I was glad to be able to get to the victim in time,” said Abma. “And I was glad for the help of the bystanders. I think Steve Hawk might have saved that young man’s life.”The two lifeguards were successful in retrieving and stabilizing the victim after putting him in a rescue tube. From there they brought him to People’s Beach south of Gray Whale Cove.Lanni became caught in the surf when he had entered the water in an attempt to rescue Bonskey, his friend.Bystander Anthony Fontaine of San Francisco assisted Lanni up onto the rocks, and was crucial in rescue efforts, according to fire and park personnel.However, during the rescue Fontaine also became stranded because of the treacherous surf.Another surfer, Cody Johnson and a firefighter were also stranded on the rocks during rescue efforts, according the U.S. Coast Guard.The California Harbor Patrol assisted with rescue efforts by making sure that the victims on the rocks didn’t get caught in the current.”We wanted to make sure we didn’t lose anybody out to sea,” said Clayton Jolley, operations division chief for Half Moon Bay Fire Protection District.A Coast Guard helicopter hoisted the four people from the rocks and brought them to shore.”It was great to see that Coast Guard helicopter come around the corner,” said Jolley.The entire rescue took about and hour and a half from the time of dispatch, according to emergency workers.Two of the victims were transported by ground ambulance to Mills-Peninsula Medical Center and treated for exhaustion, minor injuries and possible hypothermia.Jolley said that this is the third time in a matter of weeks that the fire department has responded to calls from surfers in Gray Whale Cove.”We get more surfer problems at Gray Whale Cove than any other part of the coast,” he said.State parks lifeguards say that this is in part because of strong rip currents and treacherous conditions.”In general, all San Mateo County beaches are fairly unsafe,” said Abma.The victims are often inexperienced surfers, as well as beachgoers who get swept off the beaches or rocks by the current, Abma said.Jolley also said that alcohol is often a factor in the rescues.”If you’re going to go out surfing, keep your head straight and don’t do it under the influence,” said Jolley. “And know your limitations.”According to the Department of Parks and Recreation, beachgoers can help prevent situations like this by learning to swim, not swimming alone, staying calm if caught in treacherous waters, not fighting against the current, and swimming sober.

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