Visiting Lifeguards Left High and Dry : Crime: Stolen safe held passports and airline tickets for 25 teens from New Zealand.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Suddenly minus their airline tickets and passports, a group of visiting New Zealand teen-agers spent an uneasy Sunday wondering how they would get back to their South Pacific home.

The 25 junior lifeguards on a two-week stay in Orange County are the victims of thieves who broke into the Huntington Beach junior lifeguard office south of the pier early Saturday and stole a cash box and a safe.

The cash box contained about $4,000, most of it in checks that were later found discarded in two Huntington Beach parking lots. But the 100-pound safe contained 11 of the teens' passports and 14 of their airline tickets; all of which will have to be replaced--at an estimated cost of $2,000.

"I just can't believe somebody did this," said Dave Simcox, the coordinator of the Huntington Beach Junior Lifeguard program. "I know there is vandalism in New Zealand and all over the world. But these vandals don't realize what they do affects other people and their lives."

Simcox said his junior lifeguard program would pay to replace the passports and tickets. It will cost $69 for each new passport and United Airlines has agreed to charge $50 to replace each ticket, which cost about $1,500 apiece, Simcox said.

"The kids started to get upset, but we're not going to allow that," said Simcox, a health science teacher and swimming coach at Foothill High School during the school year. "We're not going to let this ruin their trip."

A maintenance worker discovered the break-in about 1:30 a.m. Saturday. Someone had kicked in the door of a double-wide trailer that is the temporary junior lifeguard headquarters.

The Huntington Beach junior lifeguard program has expanded so rapidly--this year there's an estimated 850 youths signed up--that the trailer had to be brought in as an office, Simcox said. The program trains youths who are too young to become lifeguards and allows them to work on the beach in support positions without pay.

As part of its annual festivities, the program sponsored a cookout and beach party for Friday night for the junior lifeguards and the New Zealanders. The event brought hundreds of youths and their parents to the beach near the trailer, Simcox said.

The heavy, metal safe has a combination lock, so whoever took it might not have yet been able to open it, Simcox said.

The theft was the first negative note on the New Zealanders' stay, according to Kara Johan, whose 14-year-old son participates in the Huntington Beach program. The visitors have spent a week in the county, staying with local families and training with the Huntington Beach junior lifeguards, and are scheduled to leave Friday, she said.

"These kids helped make five rescues last week while assigned to towers and the jeeps," said Johan, 44, an Orange resident. "Today was supposed to be their off day. But I have one of the New Zealand junior guards sitting on my patio looking forlorn right now."

The visitors, all 14- to 16-year-olds, will have to postpone a trip to Catalina Island scheduled today and instead spend a day at the New Zealand Embassy in Los Angeles. They need to get their passports back quickly because, without them, the teens lack identification to cash their traveler's checks, Johan said.

"I don't see what anybody could do with those passports, they're for 14-year-olds, not adults," Johan said.

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