At least seven people, including a Los Angeles resident who tried to save a drowning girl, were killed Saturday in a rash of boating and swimming accidents apparently caused by dense fog and heavy seas, authorities said.
Five commercial fishermen, arriving for the opening of salmon season, drowned when four fishing boats capsized in heavy surf, and two others were missing and feared dead, Monterey County Senior Coroner Paul Crossman said.
"I can't remember a day like this," Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Bruce Wallisch said. "This is a big shock to all of us."
A 17-foot fishing boat capsized about 1 p.m. near the mouth of the Salinas River, about midway between Monterey and Santa Cruz. The bodies of five fishermen washed up in the surf, the coroner's office said. Three others were rescued from the chilly waters of Monterey Bay, Coast Guard Petty Officer Wayne Winner said.
"A lot of boats were trying to find their way into the narrow opening of the harbor," said Frank Spear, a state ranger. "They were caught in the surf line and probably an extraordinary set of waves, and that accounts for the fact that both swimmers and boaters were involved.
"We will continue our search at the first light of morning. We don't have much hope."
"When the fog comes in and . . . when you have heavy seas, people become disoriented," Wallisch said. "It's very easy to get into a trough between waves, and it just turns them over on their side."
In an unrelated incident at Jetty Beach, about a half mile north of Moss Landing, Benjamin Martinez of Los Angeles drowned while trying to rescue an 18-year-old swimmer who he could see was struggling in the high waves, the coroner's office said.
Martinez, who was described as "approximately 35 years of age," swam into the surf to help Marta Laura Bravo of Castroville. Both drowned.
The girl's brother, Diego, was hospitalized with hypothermia, officials said.
Their mother was on shore at the time. "She was pointing and screaming and crying and nobody could see anything, just waves," said bystander Jim Kesinger, 14, of Salinas.
Four of the drowned fishermen were identified by the coroner's office as Eugene Thomas Maher, 48, of San Leandro; Homer Leroy Brownell, 69, of Watsonville; Emil Julius Wikke, 69, of San Jose, and Patrick V. Boron, 47, of Oakland.