A 32-year-old Newport Beach lifeguard who was the first in the city’s history to die in the line of duty was being praised Monday as a hero who loved his job.
Ben Carlson died Sunday night after diving off a rescue boat to assist a distressed swimmer when 10 to 12 foot waves overtook both men.
The turbulent water prevented other lifeguards from helping Carlson, but they were able to pull the unidentified swimmer from the ocean, a news release from Newport Beach stated Monday.
Twenty-five people from multiple agencies searched for Carlson in the water, and they were supported by some 30 more on shore and a police helicopter, according to the city. Carlson was found about 8 p.m.
He was rushed to Hoag Hospital, where he was pronounced dead. The rescued swimmer fully recovered.
“He is definitely a hero. The victim he was rescuing survived, and he gave the ultimate sacrifice,” Newport Beach Fire Department Assistant Chief Rob Williams said.
Carlson was originally from the Inland Empire and attended the University of California, Irvine. In addition to serving as a lifeguard, Carlson was a bar manager at a Wahoo’s Fish Taco location at Fashion Island mall, where the chain’s founder said his love of life would be missed.
Carlson had worked at the Newport Beach Fire Department since he was 17 years old and was described as a strong surfer and swimmer.
“It’s a very tough loss to lose one of our lifeguards. Especially a gentleman like Ben who’s been with us for so long, who’s been a staple in our units and helping younger guards,” Williams said.
Carlson’s death came at the end of the long Fourth of July weekend, when forecasters had warned about dangerous rip currents and elevated surf at Southern California beaches.
“If there’s a rescue he would be the first one out … big surf, big wave … he didn’t hold back,” lifeguard Jose Delajara said.
At Malarky’s pub in Newport Beach, where Carlson had also worked, the restaurant’s marquee on Monday read: “Ben would go,” a reference to a Hawaiian lifeguard legend and surfer who braved massive waves to rescue others. “We love you. You will be missed.”
“People loved being around him. He was the life of the party. You walk in, you see him, he’s got a smile,” said bar owner Mario Marovic. “He’s just a happy guy.”
Carlson loved his beach lifestyle and being around the water, Marovic said.
“He loved being a lifeguard. That was his lifelong goal … to be a lifeguard,” Marovic said.
Wahoo’s founder Wing Lam concurred with Marovic’s description of Carlson, saying he was “happy-go-lucky, always positive, full of energy.”
A photo posted on Carlson’s private Instagram account, which was confirmed by Lam, showed him on duty aboard a boat on July 4, with the caption “Keeping them safe on the 4th.”
Flowers and pictures of Carlson were placed at the lifeguard station near the pier on Monday.
“He died doing what he loved … saving lives,” Delajara said. “We are shocked we lost … one of the best.”
Funeral arrangements had not yet been made, but Carlson was expected to get a line-of-duty public memorial.
KTLA’s Kennedy Ryan contributed to this story.