SAN DIEGO — Thursday marked day three of recovery efforts to locate an 18-year-old recent high school graduate who got swept out into the ocean off Mission Beach this week.
A close friend of the family, speaking on their behalf, has confirmed with FOX 5 that the teen is Woodlain Zachee, who played basketball at Crawford High School.
As the search wore on Thursday, San Diego Lifeguard Chief James Gartland explained staffing on the day of the incident and the department’s staffing numbers overall.
Gartland said they are fully staffed for the summer. He explained the towers that people see along the beach at Mission Beach are seasonal and deployed depending on the crowds.
“There is a system and a method to how we observe and grow with summer crowds and spring crowds,” Gartland said.
“Even with it closed, are you guys still sufficiently lifeguarding the beach?” FOX 5 asked Garltand.
The chief answered: “Yes, we have an observation policy, we have observation techniques, there is training that goes along with all of the observation surveillance we do at the beach.”
The seasonal towers near the roller coaster are staffed earlier in the season and for longer during the day because it’s busier. Gartland said that a separate set of observation towers are not seasonal — they stay open from 9 a.m. until sunset, scanning the entire shoreline.
“There is a redundancy. There is always two sets of eyes on all of the water, and then we deploy the seasonal towers which put a third set of eyes on the water and the people in the water,” Gartland said.
It was an official on an observation deck who spotted Zachee Tuesday, with a group of people struggling in the water on what was supposed to be a day of graduation celebration. The chief said the guard in the observation deck quickly deployed a rescue boat that was already in the water at the time. Unfortunately, Zachee was trapped in a rip current and dragged under before help arrived.
“This response, the observation was sufficient, the response was timely and this was just a tragic accident that happened extremely quickly,” Gartland said.
The U.S. Coast Guard finished their portion of the search for the young man on Wednesday. San Diego lifeguards continued searching Thursday, calling it a “recovery” effort at this stage.
On Friday, San Diego lifeguards who are on shift will do vessel and vehicle patrols in the area. No other agencies will be assisting and San Diego lifeguards won’t have divers in the water.
On Thursday, lifeguards used boats to tow sonar equipment that gives them a high-resolution view of the bottom.
“The surf is down a little bit, so we’ve got a little bit better visibility. But we really covered parts of the shallow, so we are moving a little bit deeper,” Gartland said.