'Anyone who walks out onto a jetty risks any number of accidents'

'Anyone who walks out onto a jetty risks any number of accidents'
The Yaquina Bay jetty, courtesy of Flickr contributor kckellner.

NEWPORT, Ore. (AP) — Last month, witnesses watched in horror as waves washed a young couple off the South Jetty of the Yaquina Bay. Both drowned.

Two years earlier, it was two young men.

One lived. One did not.

In 2005, incoming tides stranded seven people on a jetty near Oceanside. A Coast Guard helicopter plucked them to safety. A year earlier, it was a 64-year-old man who needed rescuing after he fell on the jetty rocks.

And on the list goes.

There is just something about a jetty that seems to beckon people onto its gnarly spine.

"It's a visual lure," said Eric Bluhm, a project manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

"You're closer to the waves. It's enticing. It's exciting."

And it is so very dangerous.

That's why the Corps of Engineers, which builds and maintains ocean jetties, is trying to get the word out: a jetty is no place for having fun.

"Anyone who walks out onto a jetty risks any number of accidents," said Michelle Helms, spokeswoman for the Corps. "We want people to understand these are not structures that were built with recreation in mind."

Jetties help oceangoing vessels navigate safely from harbors to sea. They are primarily built from boulders weighing as much as 30 to 50 tons and often stretch into the ocean for miles.

It's that long rocky link to the sea that people can't seem to resist.

"It's the proximity to the ocean," said Oregon State Police Sgt. Justin McGladrey. "It affords people a chance to get as far out from land without leaving land. It is a pretty unique thing, the ocean. But even on a nice day, it can be a dangerous situation, the waves can still come over the top."

That's what happened to Katie and Mike Myers last month when they came to Newport to celebrate 15 years of marriage. On clear, sunny day, Larry Prantl, of Waldport, passed the two on the South Jetty as they walked out and he came in. The waves were huge and Prantl assumed the two would turn back, but the Portland couple apparently did not understand the danger they were walking into.

A second man, George Bulawka, 48, of Vancouver, British Columbia, watched as the couple reached the tip, about a mile out, and clung to a post at the end before disappearing when a series of waves washed over them.

"That day, I was sitting on a rock about half way out there," said Prantl. "The waves were coming in and you could feel it shaking the jetty. The waves were coming in from the northwest and coming all the way across from north to south. I've never seen it that way."

It was a similar story in October 2008. A Coast Guard boat going out to sea passed Daniel Swiercinsky and Arnold Halstad, Jr. about 15 yards from the tip of the jetty. The crew motioned the men to go back. But the two merely waved back, according to the Newport Police report. About 11 minutes later, the Coast Guard boat returned and spotted Swiercinsky waving for help. Halstad's body was recovered days later.

Prantl understands the lure of the jetty. He figures he's walked it about 15 times this year.

"Generally I don't go more than halfway," he said. "When you are out there a ways, it's almost like being out there on a boat. The waves are coming in on both sides of you. You hear it, you see it, you feel the rumble through the rocks. I'm not out there when it's really bad. I don't put myself in danger."

But the possibility of being swept off is only one of the dangers, said Helms. "There are crevices between these boulders," Helms said. "You're on an already slippery surface. There are no hand holds. Even if you are wearing a life jacket, your foot can get caught between the boulders. You could get wedged in between. It's so unpredictable out there."

So next time you go to the coast, and you want to experience the power and beauty of the ocean, find a safe place, said Helms.

"Respect that not every viewpoint is the safest and be able to walk away from the coast acknowledging that without getting hurt. Or worse. We know that people want to be out on the jetties.

"The fact is they weren't made for people to be on them safely; they were made for something else. It is beautiful out there and the power of the ocean is incredible, but we want people to see that from a safe location and the jetties are not that safe location."

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Information from: The Oregonian, http://www.oregonlive.com

 

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.