Two teenagers from Arizona were vacationing in San Diego on July 4th weekend, and they found themselves in the middle of a rescue by the ocean at a place called Sunset Cliffs.
The two boys, 16-year-old Zach Haugen and 15-year-old Jake Watson, had been exploring the spectacular cliff formations during a beautiful sunset on Friday July 3rd when they spotted a pair of girls in a perilous situation in the water below.
Local photographer Jim Grant was also at the scene, and he witnessed the extraordinary rescue that unfolded in front of him.
“It just could have been a tragic event,” Grant told ABC of the incident afterward, adding that his photo could have been a sad one had they not saved the day.
A sixth-grade girl and a family friend had been playing near a reef when a large swell had swept them off their feet, and the older girl had hit her head on the rocks.
Haugen, who happens to be a licensed lifeguard, recalled, “I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh, they’re drowning.’ So that’s when I just knew I had to go in.”
The younger girl was climbing on top of her friend in a bid to breathe, and Haugen managed to pull her off. The high surf made it dangerous for the teens to get too close, however.
“I looked up at Jake,” said Haugen. “He’s like, ‘Do you need help?’ And I’m just shaking my head, and that’s when he was able to jump in and go after them.”
Watson, an avid swimmer and fishing enthusiast, dove in and got the younger girl on his back, he recalled, and then managed to roll her onto a landing.
The two teens managed to keep the girls above the waves until lifeguards finally arrived, who later admitted that the young rescuers’ efforts probably saved the girls’ lives.
After the incredible rescue, which the boys said lasted all of five minutes before help arrived, Watson recounted the experience: “We were like, ‘What just happened?’ It just felt surreal.”
The older girl suffered a fairly serious head injury, a lifeguard told ABC, though both girls are now doing well. The mother of the younger girl later thanked them for their brave action.
“We just happen to be at the right place at the right time at Sunset Cliffs,” Haugen shared.
That wasn’t the first rescue off the steep, rocky shores of San Diego in recent weeks. Last month, a man attempted to commit suicide at Sunset Cliffs by driving his pickup into the ocean with his 2-year-old twin daughters inside. Fortunately, K9 officer Jonathan Wiese responded to the call, and without hesitating, he scaled down the cliff side and saved the two girls and then waited with the man until help arrived.
San Diego Police Chief David Nisleit called it “the most heroic thing I’ve seen in my 32 years.”
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