Riptides Imperil Swimmers, Kill 1 in Orange County


Heavy surf churned by two hurricanes off Baja California pounded the Orange County coastline, contributing to the death of one body-board surfer and imperiling hundreds of other swimmers caught in strong riptides on south-facing beaches.

Jerrold Adams, 18, a high school student from Long Beach, was pulled from the surf about 10:15 p.m. Monday by two Seal Beach police officers and two civilians. They had been part of a search team that combed the beach for almost two hours after Adams was reported missing, Seal Beach Police Sgt. Dean Zanone said.

Although the exact cause of death had not been determined, Zanone said Adams appeared to have drowned. Friends told police that he was not a strong swimmer.

Waves on Monday evening at Seal Beach measured as high as four feet, largely due to hurricanes Hernan and Iselle. The heights were recorded at eight to 10 feet Tuesday in some places, prompting lifeguards to post red warning flags.

Lifeguards rescued about 360 swimmers caught in riptides in Orange County waters Tuesday, mostly in Huntington Beach, Newport Beach and Laguna Beach, where the shoreline faces the southerly swells that were spawned by the two hurricanes. In Newport Beach alone, lifeguards rescued more than 100 swimmers who, in many cases, ignored the red flags and were swept out to sea.

Strong waves generate riptides in which swimmers can be pulled hundreds of feet from shore, said Chris Daniels, a lifeguard dispatcher in Laguna Beach. Daniels explained that the water rushes onto the beach and then flows quickly back out to sea--pulling sand, seaweed and swimmers with it.

Adams and two friends reportedly were visiting the beach for the first time when they decided to take an evening ride on their boards.

At 8:45 p.m., when Adams' board washed ashore south of the pier near 10th Street, his friends began looking for him. They then called police, Zanone said.

Police, with the help of Seal Beach and Long Beach lifeguards and the Orange County Harbor Patrol, combed the beach area with searchlights and a Newport Beach police helicopter, Zanone said.

At 10:15 p.m., Adams was found unconscious, floating under the pier. Rescuers were unable to revive him, Zanone said.

The heavy surf conditions are expected to continue along the coast until at least Friday, according to the National Weather Service.

Times staff writer James M. Gomez contributed to this story.

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