MENDOCINO HEADLANDS, Calif. (KGTV) - A former San Diego lifeguard is being hailed for a harrowing rescue attempt in heavy surf conditions that killed four people in Northern California this weekend.
This was the scene that greeted lifeguard Ean Miller on Saturday below the Mendocino Headlands, some three hours north of San Francisco: a cauldron of current and 20-foot waves crashing against 40-foot cliffs.
"Your heart rate is going ... been trying to avoid something like this all day," said Miller.
A desperate young man had rushed into his State Parks lifeguard station. His family had been taking photos on the rocks when a 48-year old father fell into the water.
"What really got to me on that call ... the person that jumped in the car was his son. When I jumped in the water, it was 'That's my dad,'" said Miller.
Miller spotted clothing 15 feet out. Sporting his wet suit and helmet and other gear, he dove in. He was drawing upon his experience, including 11 years in San Diego.
"He went into really, really dangerous area without a second thought," said state parks lifeguard Joe Stoffers.
In the swirling waters, Miller spotted his chance.
"Got a good visual. Got about five stokes away and just barely missed him. Just terrible. Big set came, and I never saw him again," said Miller.
Miller stayed in the water for some 45 minutes, before the man was recovered by rescue personnel on jet skis. He was pronounced dead on the beach. The incident was one of two incidents along the Northern California coast this weekend, claiming four lives.
Although Miller wasn't able to save the man, his efforts are being lauded.
"His skill level, experience, and knowledge is so high, he can enter into an area where for most people, it's certain death," said Miller.
Last year, Miller was awarded the Medal of Valor, the highest honor for lifeguards, for two daring rescues under similar weather conditions.