RANCHO CUCAMONGA (CBSLA.com) — As the flag-draped coffin of fallen lifeguard Ben Carlson made its way from the Orange County coroner’s office in Santa Ana to its final resting place, tributes and memorials continued to spread through Newport Beach.
Carlson died Sunday trying to save the life of a swimmer in rough surf off Newport Beach.
The tragedy, the first on-duty lifeguard lost in the department’s 100-year history, weighs heavily on Carlson’s family. His father spoke with CBS2’s Tom Wait on Tuesday.
“This is so devastating to Terri and myself, but at the same time, Ben would not have had it any other way,” Christopher Carlson said. “This is what Ben was designed to do. He had the physique for it, he had the wits for it, he was designed to do this, and he went out doing that. So, from that standpoint, we feel incredibly blessed.”
Ben dived into the water and gave his flotation device to the struggling swimmer shortly before a 10-foot wave came down on him and took him under the water.
“Ten feet is big, it’s huge, it’s dangerous,” Carlson said. “But when I heard about it, it was like, how did a 10-foot wave get Ben.”
After Ben’s submerged, a widespread search was initiated for the 15-year veteran lifeguard.
“The way I understand it, the victim saw Ben floating, face-down, right after the wave came by,” Carlson said. “And then I guess he tried to grab him, and then he was gone. It was just a huge riptide.”
Carlson’s family, wishing to carry on Ben’s legacy, announced that a scholarship will be started in honor of the lifeguard, who had attended both UC Riverside and UC Irvine.
While the Carlson family has reportedly not yet spoken with the swimmer whose life was saved by the 32-year-old, they say that Ben never wanted to be called a hero.
“Ben wasn’t about that at all,” Carlson said. “So that’s really not that big of a deal. I mean, Ben has made hundreds, probably a thousand rescues, and it’s just not what it was about. It’s not what drove him.”
A Newport Beach bar, meanwhile, raised $5,000 on Monday night during an impromptu fundraiser to start a scholarship in Carlson’s name. At the same time, a surf company has designed a hat, which reads “Ben Did Go” on it, the sales of which will benefit the scholarship.
“I think it hits really close to home, just because you think if you were in that situation, you would have done the same thing, and you’d do the same thing,” former Newport Beach lifeguard Linsi Helenius said. “You just go out (and) make a rescue. You don’t think of yourself, (you’re) only thinking of the other person in that moment.”
An honorary paddleout is scheduled for 9 a.m. Sunday.