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Pastor says he tried to save man swept out to sea during baptism

A Santa Maria pastor whose assistant remained missing Monday after being swept out to sea during a baptism ceremony at a coastal park in northern Santa Barbara County described trying to save the 43-year-old man as two large waves overtook them.

Pastor Maurigro Cervantes of the Jesus Christ Light of the Sky church, told KEYT-TV that he was in the water with two others on Sunday baptizing a man his mid 20s, while his cousin, Benito Flores, was assisting.

"A big wave came and took Benito," Cervantes said. "I tried to take him out -- he was heavy -- and then another big wave came."

The entire group was dragged into the ocean during the early morning service at Rancho Guadalupe Dunes Preserve, but Santa Barbara County Fire Department Battalion Chief Diondray Wiley told KEYT that Flores was the only one unable to "self-rescue."

An extensive search by emergency teams failed to find the missing man by nightfall, the Santa Maria Times reported.

The Santa Maria church performs similar baptisms two or three times a year, Cervantes told the newspaper. Most of the 25 people at the ceremony were Spanish-speakers.

The preserve, just south of the town of Guadalupe, has sand dunes that tower 550 feet high, the tallest on the West Coast. Park authorities warn on their website that the surf at the spot can be "very dangerous."

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