David Mendez

Deadly week in Redondo Beach waters; two die, MMA fighter hospitalized

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Brian Ortega, recovering from a near-drowning just off of the Redondo Breakwall. "Mother Nature remains undefeated," he said. Photo via Twitter/@brianTcity

Brian Ortega, recovering from a near-drowning just off of the Redondo Breakwall. “Mother Nature remains undefeated,” he said. Photo via Twitter/@brianTcity

by David Mendez

Two people died and a third nearly drowned in the span of four days off of the waters of Redondo Beach last week, a series of occurrences that public safety officials are calling an anomaly.

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The first incident came on Wednesday, Feb. 27, when a group of four people were washed into the harbor from the breakwall, Redondo Beach Fire Department Division Chief Mark Winter said.

RBFD responded to the scene just after 11:15 p.m., after bystanders reported the cries for help made by the victims. Winter said that the four, two men and two women, were in the water for “a significant amount of time” before help arrived.

Upon arrival, Redondo Harbor Patrol began a rock rescue; a rescue swimmer helped one of the victims who was stuck in the water while the other three victims held to the base of the breakwall.

“While we were going back out to his location, another wave came over to the wall, which engulfed all of them,” Winter said. “To my amazement, when the wave cleared, harbor patrol was holding onto two of the female victims,” who were then brought onto the Harbor Patrol rescue boat. They were followed by the third, who was rescued after climbing onto low rocks, and the fourth, who was unresponsive, not breathing, and without a pulse.

The three conscious victims were transported to Harbor General Hospital in critical condition. The fourth, identified as One Nguyen, 36, was pronounced dead at the scene. He was from Colorado.

The belief is that a rogue wave came over the wall and washed the four into the harbor. “Typically, we have people on the rocks at night fishing — we don’t know for sure if these people were fishing, but that’s usually why people people are out there at night,” Winter said.

The second death came four days later, on Saturday morning, at the beach near Sapphire Street.

A man, believed to be scuba diving by himself, was in distress and brought ashore by other divers and surfers, for County Lifeguards to attend to. RBFD was called to the scene at 10:41 a.m. The man was not breathing and did not have a pulse by the time paramedics arrived two minutes later, Division Chief Robert Rappaport said.

The victim, Harald Gamsjagar, 49, was taken to Torrance Memorial Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead. The Los Angeles County Coroner’s office had not yet scheduled an examination to determine cause of death.

Torrance-based mixed martial arts fighter Brian Ortega was luckier.

The undefeated featherweight was at the beach last Thursday with his coach, James Luhrsen, hanging out and watching the waves when he had his own breakwall incident.

“Coach told me not to go out, that the waves were too big for me…but the second he left, I went,” Ortega said.

He jumped off of the rocks, and quickly became overwhelmed. “The big set of the day came in and I was held down for about four waves when I blacked out.” He came to atop the surfboard of a Good Samaritan, and went to a nearby hospital for observation. He was released after about four hours. “My coach got me, took me to church to say thanks to the man above, and then to get me some Thai food — best Thai food I’ve ever had in my life,” Ortega said.

“I got my first ass-whooping. Mother nature remains undefeated.”

“It’s pretty rare that we’d have two fatalities in a three- or four-day window,” Winter said. “Maybe one a year, if that, but that itself is kind of an anomaly.”

Winter noted that the area has seen intense surf as of late, recalling the high surf and wind event in early February that knocked over trees and damaged buildings along the Beach Cities.

He hesitated to attribute the incidents to any one cause in particular, though he said El Niño-related effects could be playing a part.

“The ocean’s a dangerous place if you’re not careful and paying attention. It’s slightly more hazardous right now with El Niño and the higher surf, in conjunction with high tides, have a little more action down there,” Winter said. “Having a heightened sense of awareness near the water would absolutely be beneficial for people.”

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