NEWPORT (CBSLA.com) — Newport Beach is coping with tragedy Monday, one day after the community was struck with the loss on duty of a popular lifeguard.
Lifeguard Ben Carlson, 32, was pulled from the water near the Newport Beach Pier around 8 p.m. Sunday after being lost at sea while rescuing a swimmer in rough surf.
His death, which marks the first of a lifeguard on duty in the department’s 100-year history, has had a tremendous effect on the community he served.
“He did a real important job for our community, and Ben was that guy,” friend Mario Marovic said. “I mean, he jumped off a boat to save someone’s life. I mean, how many guys are going to risk their lives to save someone else’s life?”
Memorials and billboard messages remembering and honoring the 15-year veteran lifeguard sprung up throughout Newport Beach overnight.
Residents are also honoring Carlson’s colleagues, who are equally struck by his loss.
“I just thought it would be nice to pay my respects,” resident Lisa Tally said, as she brought flowers to the department. “You know, they’ve saved my kid out there before.”
On Monday, the flag at lifeguard headquarters was flown at half-staff, as three sea rescue boats ceremonially ran by the pier in tribute.
Carlson, a former UC Irvine water polo player, disappeared into the water during the rescue, shortly after 5 p.m., prompting a massive coastal search.
Fire officials say Carlson was pounded by an eight-food wave.
“Ben jumped off the boat, he contacted the victim, gave him the buoy to assist him, he was trying to help him out back to the boat when he was notified that there was a large set coming in,” Newport Beach Police Chief Rob Williams said. “They tried to make it out, but the set caught them, him and the victim, and that’s when the incident happened.”
Carlson, who mentored junior lifeguards, worked in Bar Operations at nearby Wahoo’s Fish Tacos.
“Ben had been posting all weekend about keeping safe, and (making) sure you keep an eye on the waves and all that,” Wahoo founder Wing Lam said. “So, of all the people it could have happened to, that was the one person we didn’t think it was going to happen to.”
A vigil was held Monday night inside Newport Beach Lifeguard headquarters.
“We want people to be here and go home safe,” Assistant Chief Rob Williams said. “But, I couldn’t have imagined that one of our guards would be the one to die.”
While an autopsy is scheduled for Tuesday, a ceremonial paddleout is planned for Sunday.