At Ocean Beach in San Francisco this weekend, mother of three Jessica Basisht gave her sons the rundown before letting them swim.
“What’s the rule, guys?,” she asked, according to KTVU.
“Only go up to your knees,” her boys answered together, ” and don’t go farther.”
Basisht is one of many beach-goers terrified by the news that two teens were pulled out to sea Saturday and by that evening, presumed drowned.
The teens were described as weak swimmers and barely 140 pounds. Fire Department spokesman Jonathan Baxter told the San Francisco Chronicle that “conditions on a good day are generally enough to pull a grown man into the water.”
Appears to be a rescue operation in progress at Ocean Beach. 2 teens stuck past the break. SFFD & USCG on scene. pic.twitter.com/T8rIyBS8Jf— Eddie Codel (@ekai) April 17, 2016
The incident happened Saturday afternoon, when warm weather lured locals to the beach. Many of them ignored the ominous signs (“People swimming and wading have drowned here”) to cool off.
Among this weekend’s beachgoers were the drowned teens, identified by KTVU as Wayne Ausa, 17, and Grisham Duran, 16, both students at Vallejo High School. They and three other boys braved the waters together.
According to the Los Angeles Times, the teens — all from Vallejo — waded into the dangerous Ocean Beach waters arm in arm at about 4:20 p.m. Those who knew the teens said none of them could swim very well.
They were waist-deep when a strong wave or undertow pulled their arms apart and knocked them off their feet. They were dragged into the sea, but four of the five swam to safety. Baxter said that one of those boys, seeing his friend struggling in the water, went back to rescue him. The teens were described as the group’s weakest swimmers.
The three who made it back to the beach, unharmed, were two 17-year-olds and an 18-year-old. They weren’t injured but were suffering from shock — they were taken to the hospital and reported to be in stable condition.
A search mobilized from Ocean Beach immediately. The call came in that the teens had disappeared in the ocean at about 4:18 p.m. and the U.S. Coast Guard responded by 4:22 p.m. to look for them, the San Jose Mercury News noted. The San Francisco Fire Department also responded.
Officials searched for five hours by air, land, and sea using two lifeboats, a helicopter, and crews searching by foot. By 9 p.m., the hunt at Ocean Beach stopped, and the youths presumed dead. The families were informed, according to Baxter.
“We offered to continue to have a presence. But the families were very understanding as to what has likely happened to their children.”
The teens each weighed about 130 to 140 pounds and weren’t wearing life jackets, so officials have estimated that they likely drifted six to 15 miles into the ocean. Baxter expects the bodies to drift ashore in a week, but the families have been told that there’s a chance their children will never be found.
2 teenagers swept into the surf at Ocean Beach have been recovered. But 2 remain in the water. A search continues. pic.twitter.com/3ipFFqrmjL— Sergio Quintana (@svqjournalist) April 17, 2016
People who knew the youths remember them fondly. Eloy Aquarin, who sang with Grisham in the church choir in Vallejo, called him a “good boy.”
Back on Ocean Beach on Sunday, lifelong beachgoer Willie Villafuerte told reporters his own story, one very similar to what happened to Ausa and Duran the day before.
“I got pulled out when I was young, and when I tried to swim back to shore, I couldn’t. And the only reason I’m here today, is a rogue wave pushed me back in. Since then, I haven’t gone back out in that water, other than wading, getting my toes wet, that’s it!”
Ocean Beach is a dangerous place to swim and this weekend, the water was 54 degrees and the current strong enough to pull a man off his feet in ankle-deep water. People are discouraged from swimming — those who do must be good swimmers.
After the drowning, however, people were still braving the rip currents.
[Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images]