Exclusive: Lifeguards describe heartbreaking rescue

Posted at 11:42 PM, Jan 25, 2017
and last updated 2017-01-26 08:30:40-05

The lifeguards who risked their lives to save a woman swept out to sea in Ocean Beach described the rescue exclusively to 10News.

Eric Meech and Marc Brown are still recovering from the rescue Saturday evening.

A large wave swept two woman off the rocks at Ocean Beach and into the sea. A good Samaritan was able to rescue one of the women, but lifeguards spent more than 40 minutes searching for 23-year-old Adriana Toro.

RELATED: Woman who died after wave swept her into ocean identified

Meech said the sea foam that covered the water made the rescue one of the toughest he's ever done.

“When you entered the water, you lost sight of everything," Meech said. "So the only way you knew which way was up was that your feet would be pointing down.”

“Everywhere you looked was just this maze of foam so you couldn’t really tell what was going on,” Brown said.

The foam, which Meech said was five feet high at times, made it very difficult to breathe.

"Just sand, and kelp and debris was just lodged in the back of your chest," Brown said. "You could just feel it just grinding."

“Every time we would get pulled under, we would come up, and you would feel your face come above the surface of the sea water, but there was that foam, so our hands and arms were occupied so you couldn’t waft it away and breathe fresh air,” Brown said.

Despite the difficulties, the partners refused to give up. Meech was the first to find Toro in the water.

"When I turned around I bumped into I think it was her arm and immediately recognized that and just grabbed on and I didn't want to let go," Meech said. "I remember yelling, you know, 'I've got her, I've got her, I got her!' It was only 12-15 seconds before Marc was right there. But with that surreal environment of the lighting, the flashlights flickering all around you, and the sound and the foam, it certainly felt a lot longer."

“It’s like pulling a cement block up, you know? It’s just, it was pulling us under and not to mention [the current] was pulling us out.”

Other lifeguards jumped in to help, and together they finally got Toro to the beach and immediately began CPR.

"It took every bit of strength in us for us to lift her up," Brown said.

Sadly, Toro died at UC San Diego Medical Center later Saturday night; fire officials say the other woman is expected to recover.

Meech and Brown were both treated for aspiration and are on medicine to help them recover from breathing in so much foam during the rescue.

“Felt like my head was going to pop off, I was hacking so hard,” Brown said. "Not being able to breathe like you normally end up doing is a bit of a challenge."

Toro's death is heartbreaking for lifeguards.

"It's difficult to deal with," Meech said. "You know, that's someone's daughter, someone's loved one. You can't take away that we did lose somebody that night but at the same time, we did our jobs to the utmost degree and we did everything we possibly could and we can't look back and second guess ourselves for how things went."

“It’s difficult," Brown said. "You feel sad for that family’s loss.”

Meech and Brown have both worked as lifeguards in San Diego for more than 20 years.