UPDATE: Tofino police have confirmed that a 52-year-old woman died after an ocean accident off Long Beach near Tofino on Sunday morning.
After pulling an unconscious woman from the water Sunday morning, David Jensen is urging Tofino, Ucluelet and the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve to bring lifeguards back to Long Beach.
David Jensen a former local who now lives near Errington and visits the West Coast frequently to surf, told the Westerly News that he was out for a paddle off Long Beach around 11 a.m. when he heard someone in distress.
“I heard somebody screaming, and not that fun kind of scream,” Jensen said adding he immediately began paddling towards where the sound came from around Lovekin Rock. “It was an obscured view because of the waves and I was a distance away…I paddled close enough to see there was a couple surfer guys who were helping somebody that was lying face down in the water. At that time and tide, that place is a very dangerous spot so those guys had put themselves in harm’s way to try to help this person.”
He said he made his way to the spot and helped the other two surfers trying to assist a woman who, he said, was unresponsive.
“The only thing going through my mind at that point was that this was her last chance, with the three of us that were there…We were trying our best; that’s all I can say,” he said. “We tried to get her onto the board, fighting the waves. The waves just knocked us around and knocked us around. We couldn’t get out of the break due to the current. That’s just the nature of that spot.”
He said it took roughly 15 minutes to get the woman onto the beach where a bystander performed CPR before paramedics arrived minutes later and transported the woman away in an ambulance.
The Westerly News has reached out to the Tofino RCMP for information on the woman’s condition and will update this story as soon as new information comes in.
Jensen said the incident could have been prevented if the surf guard tower that was torn down in 2012, was still in place. The surf guard program involved four lifeguards watching over Long Beach from the tower, located near Lovekin Rock, and it had been in place for roughly 40 years before being removed by the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve due to budget cuts in 2012.
Jensen said lifeguards would have immediately steered the surfer he helped try to rescue on Sunday away from Lovekin before the incident occurred.
“If there was a manned lifeguard tower there, that would have never happened today. That would have been stopped before that critical situation,” he said.
He added there are signs at Long Beach’s trail-heads warning surfers about the dangers of both Lovekin and Incinerator Rock, especially during low tide, but it routinely falls on seasoned surfers in the area to keep novice surfers who did not read the signs away from danger.
“A lot of times, like a day like today where it’s only one-meter, it’s usually tame, unless it’s at low tide and what happens at low tide is it becomes a very dangerous place,” he said. “Incinerator Rock and Lovekin Rock are, by far, the most dangerous places to surf for new people on this coast.”
A University of Victoria student died after a surfing accident near Lovekin Rock on Feb. 10.
Jensen said reviving the Park Reserve’s surf guard program should be a top priority as the area’s surfing popularity continues to skyrocket.
“I’ve seen the changes over the last 25 years out on the coast, going from two surf shops and a handful of surfers and old boys to just an explosion. The beach is packed with surfers. There’s surf shops everywhere and all surf culture stuff. It’s a huge part of the economy now,” he said. “It’s keeping food on the table for a lot of different people in a lot of different ways.”
He said Sunday’s incident was preventable and that Tofino and Ucluelet’s councils and businesses should collaborate with the Park Reserve to bring lifeguards back to the beach.
“It would be beautiful if these towns could get together and be proactive with the Park and get this done. Because it’s going to happen again,” he said. “What I really want is for those two towns to be able to see this problem in black and white and just do something about it. Please. It’s overdue.”
Two local surf instructors urged Tofino’s municipal council to put a lifeguard program in place during an August 23 council meeting last year.