What was intended as a peaceful morning photographing the sunrise turned frantic for Mike Czako early Saturday when he was witness to the dramatic efforts to save three people swept from a San Pedro breakwall by a large wave.
A 49-year-old man and a 14-year-old boy survived. A 36-year-old man who had apparently tried to help the others was later pronounced dead after being transported to Providence Little Company of Mary Medical Center in San Pedro.
Initial reports indicated as many as three people had been knocked off the Cabrillo Beach breakwater by a wave, but Port Police Lt. Michael Capodannosaid the man who died was one of several who attempted to help after the older man and boy were swept away.
He "jumped into the water to render aid and has subsequently died as a result of his efforts," Capodanno said.
The man's name was not released by coroner's officials, pending notification of next of kin.
Czako was at Cabrillo Beach in the parking lot checking his camera equipment about 6:40 a.m. when a man ran up to him screaming that a huge wave had knocked three people who had been fishing on the breakwater into the ocean.
Czako called 911 and ran to the breakwater, where he saw the older man in the water, hanging onto a rock. The boy, though, was flailing with a heavy jacket and shoes appearing to pull him under, Czako said.
"Right when I get there, he's making it to the rock ledge and I'm thanking God that both are safe," said Czako, a 38-year-old art director who works in advertising.
But then he saw something else, another man in the water facedown. The man who had run up to him jumped over the breakwater and helped to pull the man to the rock ledge, while a fisherman who had been on the pier tried to perform CPR. But the man appeared to be unconscious and unresponsive, Czako said.
Czako gave directions to port police, county lifeguards and rescuers with the Los Angeles County Fire Department, who arrived by boat after five or 10 minutes.
During the rescue, they were all nearly swept away by another large wave, he said.
"I've been shaking all day," Czako said. "It's crazy. You get out there and there's all this adrenaline because you want to help this man in this situation. It feels horrible to realize that he passed away."
The 49-year-old man, who had taken the boy fishing, made his way out of the water, Capodanno said. Both he and the boy have been released from the hospital.