NEWPORT BEACH (CBSLA.com) — Thousands gathered on the beach in Newport for a celebration of life ceremony, remembering lifeguard Ben Carlson, who died in the line of duty last week.
Included in the crowd were lifeguards from across Southern California as well as members of the community, who turned out to pay their respects.
Ben Carlson, 32, was killed when he dove into rough surf to save a struggling swimmer on July 6 off Newport Beach. After rescuing the swimmer, Carlson was taken under by a reported 10-foot wave, prompting a massive search.
His body was found in the early evening, not far from the Newport Beach pier.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen the community rally behind something as strong as this,” Newport Beach Fire Dept. Chief Scott Poster said. “If you go through Newport Beach, the restaurants of signs, the movie theaters have signs, people are wearing shirts, people have even gotten tattoos for Ben. I don’t think, in my career, I’ve ever seen anything like this towards any individual. Ben has just such a tremendous following. (He was) such a wonderful individual.”
Earlier on Sunday, hundreds of lifeguards and surfers held a large paddle-out to honor Carlson, the first lifeguard to be killed in the line of duty in the department’s 100-years.
Among the boards taken along on the paddle-out was one unmanned board, decorated with flowers.
Helicopter flyovers were also held as lifeguard vessels used their water cannons to show as fountains near the Newport Beach pier.
“He was a water man, and a great guy, a great friend,” one paddle-out participant said.
Others involved in the paddle-out touched on the magnitude of Carlson’s sacrifice.
“There’s not a greater thing you could do in your life than to give your life for someone else,” surfer Dave Granoff said.