Cold temperatures and windy conditions complicated rescue efforts for firefighters Monday who searched for a man who jumped off The Santa Monica Pier and battled an early morning brushfire above the Pacific Coast Highway. A Los Angeles County helicopter eventually located the body of the missing swimmer 600 yards south of the Pier and declared the man dead on scene.
The National Weather Service issued a warning for Gale Force winds late Sunday night as a cold front moved into Los Angeles County. The alert warned of dangerous sea conditions and encouraged boaters to seek shelter within a harbor. Hours later, Santa Monica Fire Department responded to a brushfire on the bluffs about a quarter of a mile south of the Annenberg Beach House.
“My dad woke up and saw the red and blue lights reflecting on an outward facing wall inside our house,” said Molly Philbin who grew up in a house right across from the fire. “When he walked out the fire was pretty high on the cliffside, maybe like 100 feet. It had spread to some of the palm trees.”
Philbin said the fire department had recently cleared brush from the area. No one was hurt and firefighters were able to contain the fire.
A few hours later, a fisherman called 9-1-1 from the Santa Monica Pier, saying he saw a man throwing rose petals into the Pacific Ocean before jumping off The Pier.
“When we first got on the scene it was kind of dark still and we weren’t able to locate him,” said Los Angeles County Fire Lifeguard Public Information Officer AJ Lester. A search and rescue team immediately deployed, including divers, paddleboarders, the Baywatch Rescue Boat from Marina Del Rey and Copter 18. However, with gusty winds up to 20 knots, choppy waves and a water temperatures around 58 degrees, Lester says hypothermia would have set in quickly for the jumper.
“All the blood rushes into your core and your muscle shut down,” Lester said. “Then your organs shut down. A person in that degree of water with that wind chill is not going to last long swimming – maybe 10 to 15 minutes before they have complications from hypothermia.”
The helicopter located the body which was recovered by the boat near tower 22. The Santa Monica Police Department is now investigating the circumstances that led up to the man jumping. Lt. Saul Rodriguez says it was likely a suicide.
“We train on a regular basis for this type of incident,” Lester said. “It was dark this morning and unfortunately we weren’t able to locate this person faster and have a better outcome.”
The weather is forecasted to improve Tuesday and Wednesday, according to the National Weather Service.