Thursday, April 15, 2010

SMN Tower #15 and SMS Tower #16, by Flanagan, Alexander & Jackson

"County Recurrent" is pleased to bring you two connected accounts of a rescue at the Santa Monica Pier "back in the day" by both LACo O.L. Terry Flanagan and then S.O.L. (and currently, LACo Captain), Angus Alexander, plus a similar SMN Tower #16 event by LACo O.L. Greg Jackson, also "back in the day". Enjoy!

(The two photos below, present day, show the area just north of the SM Pier and adjacent to SM Tower #15)

On Apr 8, 2010, Terry Flanagan (aka, Flanafish) wrote:

SM 15...not my favorite, although I only worked there in the off season. I had one spring rescue there in 1982 or 1983 with the wind blowing 40 knots and a howling south current.

Boogie boarder got swept under the pier and was hanging on the pilings with his legs out like a flag in the wind. I called for backup and got to the vic first, then Angus Alexander came off the call car and the two of us tried to pry the guy off the piling. We were getting smashed by the waves and trying not to get slashed by the mussels.

Eventually we got him off, then tried to pull him clear of the pier, but the current was too strong. Then the guy passed out and we wound up shooting the pier to the south side where Baywatch picked us up. The victim went to the hospital and recovered with no problems. I went back to 15 to finish out the day. After a half hour or so I warmed up, the adrenaline wore off, and I spent the next three days feeling like I'd been beaten with a baseball bat.

On Apr 9, 2010, Angus Alexander wrote:

In reply to the story of a “Flan-a-fish” Tower 15 rescue. It was one of the toughest rescues of my career and would have been a medal of valor except it was on duty and our job. It was spring of 1984, it was after the 1983 winter storm that destroyed the Santa Monica Pier and all the pier debris was still in the water when we had to shoot the pier because the current was too strong to escape.

This teenager on a boogie board started in the water at Tower 14 and was not a victim yet. Terry “Flan-a-fish” Flanagan had heads up to call for back up as the boogie boarder whizzed past his tower (T-15) heading for the pier. When I got on scene, it was Gale force wind driving 4’-6’ constant wind-chop and a strong lateral current driving into the pier. I swam out and met “Flan-a-fish” and the victim at the North pier piling, neither one going anywhere due to the current and heavy surf chop. “Flan-a-fish” and I knew that going through the “Cheese-grater” after the big storm of 1983 that destroyed the one-third of the pier with all the debris, broken pier pilings, metal rebar still in the water was not a good option, especially since we would have to also go through the Newcomb pier as well. We doubled up and tried to swim out against the current but were driven back into the pier and we were fending off the outside pilings when the SM harbor patrol threw over a ring buoy with a line attached. We put the victim into the ring buoy and the harbor patrol crew tried to lift him out of the water. The strain and exhaustion must have been too much for the victim because half way up he went unconscious, limp, and fell back into the water. Now we have no good options left and have to get this unconscious victim out of the water - so we shoot the pier. With the strong lateral current driving us into the pier, the constant wind waves pounding us, and the “cheese grater” before us, we go for it fending off razor sharp pilings and debris as we go. We came out the other side and got the victim to the beach on the south side of the pier. The victim was still unconscious when we transferred him to SM Fire paramedics. “Flan-a-fish” and I went to HQ to take a hot shower and clean our wounds from the pier. We were both stoked and shocked at the physical ordeal we went through. We found out later that the victim had recovered in hospital. Everyone went home that night with a true respect for Mother Nature and the Santa Monica Pier. Terry Flanagan is an experienced ocean lifeguard and made a good call for back up by recognizing the rescue before it happened. “Mother Nature is a cruel teacher; she often gives the test before the lesson.”

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(The two photos below, also present day, show the beach just south of the SM Pier adjacent to SMS Tower #16, and the water adjacent to the Newcomb Pier which is immediately adjacent to Tower #16 and is consistent with the story told by Greg Jackson below)

On Apr 8, 2010, GREG JACKSON wrote:

'83, right before the wave crushed the SM Pier, I saw that on the news, bet there wasn't any protection from the Breakwater that day. I had just the opposite experience, big south swell and I was at Tower 16. We had two guys in the tower and there were two at 17 who eventually just camped with us. We had that buoy line out in front, most of the victims were Latino and didn't speak English and would come out to swim during the lulls. We were screaming "No nadar aqui, nadar alli" or something like that over a bull horn, it wasn't working and they'd get washed out and cling to the line until the next set would pry them loose and wash them into the pier because of the strong lateral current running from direction of Tower 16 toward the pier. We'd race the headquarters crew to the victims, they'd run from the upstairs Headquarters in back of 16, down the stairs through the volleyball courts and up the stairs to the pier parking lot. If they beat us they'd jump and the L1 Rescue Boat was standing by. They didn't beat us much, I think it was Mullins and Beattie. Richards and Steers might have started first but they got smoked by the recurrents and headed back to the switchboard, those two were fast. If you were lucky you could pry the victims off the line and swim them out to the L1 and they'd ferry them around the pier to 15 and have the guard swim them in. If you weren't you went through the pier with them as a bumper. Most folks are thinking no big deal having gone through the Venice Pier or one of the south bay piers but they were like freeways compared to the SM Pier. If you walked under those other piers to the middle and looked out to sea you could actually see the horizon. If you walked under the SM Pier to the middle, fudging to the south side, and stopped to look seaward and didn’t get mugged, you couldn’t see anything but pilings, maybe a touch of daylight. Don’t know how it looks now but it was dark back in the day. After shooting the pier and these pinball pilings with a victim in tow you came out the other side feeling like hamburger and the victim, a wet bun with lots of ketchup. We did that for about four hours until they finally closed the beach. I think I lost 6 pounds, I'd like to lose 6 pounds now and come to think of it, I needed to loose'm then!!

We should write a movie about all this, wait, didn't Bonann do that, or did he just write about augmentation??


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Many Thanks to Flanafish, Angus and Greg!

The lateral currents that can occur on both sides of SM Pier are notoriously strong and preventions can reduce the danger of having to shoot the pier with a victim or victims in tow, but as these seasoned guards have indicated, these rescues can never be entirely eliminated.

Until next time.....

"County Recurrent" News

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