Cliff, air rescue numbers on rise in San Diego County

Posted at 6:01 PM, May 01, 2017
and last updated 2017-05-02 08:22:43-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - It’s not hard to find words to describe San Diego’s coastline.

Beautiful, striking, picturesque are just a few. There’s also dangerous.

"Some of our rescues occur when people just simply get too close and slip off the edge,” said San Diego Lifeguard Chief Rick Wurts.

In April, a man died and a woman had to be rescued after both fell from a cliff near the Torrey Pines Gliderport.

A week earlier, a chunk of an unstable cliff slammed into a woman walking on the beach near Torrey Pines.

And in March, lifeguards rescued a hang glider who was stranded on a cliff overlooking Black’s Beach.

"Cliff rescues are a huge issue here in the city,” said San Diego Fire Assistant Chief Chris Webber.

Team 10 collected San Diego fire data on cliff and open air rescues. According to the information provided by city officials rescue calls have more than doubled since 2014.

The people who respond to the calls say most incidents could have been avoided.

"There’s always the story of the Pokémon people chasing that off, but we get people trying to take pictures from the edge of the cliff and we get people playing on the cliffs,” Webber said.

Depending on the rescue it can require upward of two dozen people including lifeguards, firefighters, police and, if needed, the helicopter and its crew.

Webber said it costs more than $3,000 an hour to fly the helicopter.

“We actually expend quite a few resources when we have an operation down here,” he said. “It’s very complicated and very dangerous"

The city provides these services whether the patient is the victim of an accident or simply reckless.

"If people follow the rules, the need for cliff rescues will decrease, but accidents do happen,” Wurts told Team 10.

Rescues aren’t limited to city limits.

"The problem is a lot of people we're finding really overestimate their abilities,” said U.S. Forest Service Resources Officer Mike Kobliska.

Case in point, the unofficial trail at Three Sisters Falls in San Diego County where rescues are also up dramatically since 2013.

“What’s happened with social media and the popularity of social media, people get a lot of information about it and they want to go see a beautiful site,” Kobliska said. “They get into situations they are just not equipped to deal with.”

"I’ve had reports from my fire captains of people in bikinis and flip flops walking down a trail and lowering themselves on rope in a rugged and very inhospitable environment,” said Cal Fire Battalion Chief Burke Kremensky.

Kremensky said Cal Fire’s hoist helicopter is used in rescue situations and to fight fires.

Last summer during the Border Fire, two other fires popped up in the county.

Kremensky said crews were using their hoist helicopter for water drops when a call came in that someone needed to be rescued.

He said the most common reason is heat illness or heat exhaustion.

"I don’t believe that people are bringing enough water and preparing themselves,” he said. “They are going in the hottest time of the year, usually the summer months, and I just don’t think they are ready for that environment.”

Of course first responders will be there when needed, but they say before heading to the beach or mountains, be prepared.

Before you set out to the beach or the mountains emergency responders ask that you be prepared for where you’re going.

According to the city of San Diego’s website “Lifeguard Cliff Rescue Instructors are trained and certified in technical rope rescue and instruction by multiple public and private certifying bodies including the California State Fire Marshal, Rescue 3 International, Rigging for Rescue, Peak Rescue Institute, and other organizations. San Diego Lifeguard Cliff Rescue Instructors help put the SDFD Lifeguard division on the forefront of technical rope rescue.”

If you’re heading into the mountains experts say you should assess your physical fitness level before setting out on a new hike.

The forest service website says “High temperatures are common in the summer, but can occur throughout the year. Heat exhaustion and heat stroke can result from continued exposure to high temperatures and inadequate or unbalanced replacement of fluids. Adults require two quarts of water per day and four quarts or more for strenuous activity at high elevations”