Firefighters, lifeguards rescue 3 threatened by tide in Laguna Beach

Three people who were threatened by the tide while stranded in a cove were back on dry ground today after a nighttime rescue by firefighters rappelling down an oceanside cliff and lifeguards swimming through dark surf, according to authorities.

The call for help came around 8:55 p.m. Wednesday from near Seacliff Drive and Pacific Coast (1) Highway in Laguna Beach, said Laguna Beach Fire Deputy Chief Jeff Latendresse.

A woman and two men, all in their early 20s, had walked down to cave-lined Littleman's Cove around 6 p.m., but got cut off as darkness fell and the tide came in.

"They could not walk back the way they went down there," Latendresse told a local wire service.

The peak tide came around 10:30 p.m., at the height of the rescue operation, which was carried out by firefighters from Laguna Beach and the Orange County Fire Authority and lifeguards from Laguna Beach and U.A. Ocean Safety – around 40 rescuers in all, Latendresse said.

While firefighters devised a rope system braced off a ladder truck, seven lifeguards in wetsuits walked down to another beach to swim through cliffside surf to reach the three adults, he said.

Three firefighters used climbing hardware and ropes to rappel down the cliff, which they estimated to be 75 to 100 feet, Latendresse said. Two lifeguards with rescue buoys made a free swim around the point, and all five helped in the rescue at the base of the cliff, he said.

The rescuers strapped each adult into a metal stretcher basket to raise them with ropes up the cliff one at a time, a Focal Point camera crew reported.

The woman and one of the men were taken to a hospital to be treated for exposure, Latendresse said. The other man declined hospital treatment. Other than exposure, none of the three suffered injuries.

The first firefighter to reach the victims made contact at 9:43 p.m., before the lifeguards, Latendresse said. The three trapped people were raised to the top of the cliff at 10:30 p.m., 10:59 p.m. and 11:17 p.m., respectively, and all rescue personnel were safe and accounted for at 11:42 p.m.

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