It’s not often you can say that a person who was involved in a plane crash may have gotten lucky, but that appears to be the case for the pilot in Friday’s banner plane crash in Huntington Beach.
The plane went down around 1:30 p.m. near Beach Boulevard. Video of the crash showed the banner plane losing altitude before it splashed onto its belly just off shore.
That’s when multiple lifeguards sprang into action.
As it turns out, the plane went down not far from a statewide lifeguard competition taking place at the beach.
Officials from the California Surf Lifesaving Association confirmed that the plane crashed right in front of dozens of lifeguards competing in the Junior Lifeguard Championships.
“It happened during a break, fortunately, no one was on the course, but it crashed right in one of our courses that we were using,” said Adam Sandler, a spokesman for the event. “Fortunately, because we were on break, lifeguards that were in the area that were waiting to start the next race in the course just jumped right into action as soon as the plane hit the water.”
He said some of the competitors were in the water before the splash from the crash had even settled.
“It’s instinct,” Sandler said. “We have an expression, ‘watch the water,’ and that’s what they were doing, they were watching the water.”
At least five lifeguards involved in the competition were the first people on the scene of the plane crash. The pilot, who was the only soul on board, was rescued and suffered only minor injuries.
“As soon as the plane hit the water, everyone saw the wings on the water, the junior lifeguards who were in competition rushed on their paddleboards to try to be the first one to get to the pilot who was out on the wing to see how he was, to help him and rescue him,” said Lee Graham, director of the Huntington Beach Junior Lifeguard Program. “Lifeguards immediately followed right behind the kids and he was rescued right away.”
Graham said that he was grateful that none of the kids participating in the event were injured by the crash, and he was thankful that the pilot appeared to be OK. He said he was not surprised at all by the quick action of the young lifeguards.
“Junior lifeguards are trying to be lifeguards and they really want to make rescues and help people. That’s just in their nature,” Graham said.
Participants in Friday’s competition were among the CSLA’s Junior Lifeguard Championship, with competitors ranging in age from 9 to 18.
On Saturday, the competition resumed with the adult championships. The competing lifeguards are professional ocean lifeguards at various agencies across the state, Sandler said.
Both competitions put participants through a number of challenges including running, paddling, rowing, swimming and feats of endurance while utilizing their skills as trained lifeguards.
The CSLA lifeguard competition was expected to conclude around 6 p.m. Saturday and members of the public were invited to stop by and watch the lifeguards in action.