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Coast Guard suspends search for missing swimmer off Huntington Beach

The U.S. Coast Guard has suspended its search for a swimmer who went missing off Huntington Beach on Friday afternoon, as the rescue effort moves to a recovery mission.

Huntington Beach lifeguards say they’ll continue searching for the man, identified by Coast Guard officials as 53-year-old Van Nguyen, who was reported missing around 4 p.m. Friday.

Nguyen and two friends were wading in chest-deep water when he began yelling for help, said Lt. Claude Panis of Huntington Beach Marine Safety. As one of his friends was approaching, they were hit by a strong wave. The two friends made it back to shore but Nguyen had disappeared.

Lifeguards had a difficult time communicating with Nguyen’s friends, so a police officer was brought in to translate. They told officials Nguyen was visiting from San Francisco.

A number of agencies joined the search, including the U.S. Coast Guard, the Huntington Beach Police Department, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department and lifeguards from Bolsa Chica State Beach to Laguna Beach.

Using boats and helicopters, Coast Guard officials scoured more than 150 square nautical miles before suspending their search.

Lifeguards who did a sweep of the coast early Saturday morning turned up no signs of Nguyen, whom officials described as 5 feet, 5 inches tall and wearing red swim trunks with a black stripe.

Panis said high surf, shifting tides and strong rip currents made conditions especially dangerous Friday afternoon. Some waves were as high as eight feet.

He warned that despite the unseasonably warm weekend, beachgoers should exercise extra caution and stay out of the water if possible.

“If you’re not an expert swimmer, you really shouldn’t go into the water this weekend,” Panis said. “The waves look real pretty, but if you’re not familiar with the ocean, it could cost you your life.”

If caught in a rip current, officials said, swimmers should swim parallel to the shore until they’re out of the current, and then swim back to shore.

christine.maiduc@latimes.com

For more on California politics, follow @cmaiduc.

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