Lifeguard drowns trying to save swimmer off Southern California beach

Image shows part of frantic search on July 6, 2014 for lifeguard who disappeared under ocean waves off Newport Beach, Calif. while trying to help a swimmer; lifeguard's body was found after three hours and swimmer made it to shore safely, authorities say CBS Los Angeles

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. -- A lifeguard drowned while trying to rescue a swimmer off a Southern California beach Sunday, authorities said.

Ben Carlson, 32, was pulled from the water around 8 p.m. PDT by fellow lifeguards following a frantic, three-hour search, Newport Beach Fire Department Chief Scott Poster said.

CBS Los Angeles says the "desperate and heroic effort" included a foot-by-foot search between jetties and a chain of human divers. More than 25 people took part in the search, Poster added.

He said Carlson, a 15-year department veteran, went into the water to help a struggling swimmer when they were hit by a large wave. Carlson went under water, and the swimmer made it to shore safely. Poster said searchers were hampered by up to 12-foot swells.

"It was just an utter tragedy to lose a man of that caliber in the water today," the chief said, noting that it was the first time a city lifeguard died in the line of duty.

 

"Ben was a well-respected individual, always a nice guy, always was there to help somebody," Poster said. "He'd give his shirt off his back at anytime."

The National Weather Service had issued a warning Sunday of dangerous rip currents and high surf along Southern California beaches. The weather service said some beaches saw up to 8-feet high surf.

Los Angeles County firefighters rescued a 25-year-old man who was caught in the waves off Rancho Palos Verdes and high tide breached a sand berm in Long Beach.

The lifeguard's death came a day after a 50-year-old long-distance swimmer and former lifeguard was bitten by a shark off Manhattan Beach.

Authorities and witnesses said the 7-foot-long juvenile had been trying to free itself from a fisherman's hook when it lunged at Steven Robles' chest.

The beaches remained open, but police prohibited fishing from the Manhattan Beach pier where the fisherman hooked the shark until Tuesday.

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