Sunset Cliffs: 2015 Turning Out to Be Most Dangerous and Deadly Year

by on December 29, 2015 · 11 comments

in Culture, Environment, Health, History, Life Events, Media, Ocean Beach

sunset cliffs bench newBack in mid-October we published a chronicle of deaths and serious injuries that have occurred at or around Sunset Cliffs in Ocean Beach and Point Loma over the last 10 to 11 years, from 2005 through 2015.

Now with this most recent death of a man visiting from the Mid-West who fell off the cliffs while viewing his mobile device, this year – 2015 – looks to be the worst in terms of deaths and injuries.

This tragic death made national and even international news. What didn’t make the news was how dangerous and deadly our beautiful cliffs can be.

Back in mid-October, we summarized the incidents and came up with an average of 3 deaths and serious injuries per year, from 2005 to the present. We found that 2015 was already one of the worst years of these incidents.

Here is our introduction to what we wrote in October:

The beautiful Sunset Cliffs that stretch from the residential southern portions of Ocean Beach to the lower reaches of the uninhabited sections of Point Loma are certainly a world-renown, indescribably gorgeous treasure of nature that line the land’s border with the Pacific.

At the right moment when the ocean earns its name and the Cliffs earn theirs, the beauty and serenity cannot be amply replicated by the pen – or keyboard.

Yet these same cliffs with their jagged rocks and crashing surf are also very unforgiving in their encounters with unwary humans, where death and distress accompany their collision with this abrupt edge between ocean and peninsula.

Here, again, is our chronicle for 2015 (before the most recent death):

  • January 3, 2015Kyle Witkowski dies after driving off street; girlfriend seriously injured

Local Kyle Witkowski was the victim in a fatal car crash off Sunset Cliffs during the early hours of Saturday, January 3rd. Kyle was killed and the female passenger seriously injured when his Chevy Tahoe missed the turn at the end of Bacon Street and flew off the cliffs, going through the guard-rail and fence and landing upside down on the rocks below.

  • January 15, 2015Surfer smashed on rocks

A surfer was rescued after being smashed against the jagged rocks of Sunset Cliffs. Rescuers say the man got into trouble when he tried to leave the surf, and was was hit repeatedly by sets of large waves that sent him crashing into the rocks at the foot of the cliff. Crews had to use a hoist to pull him to safety. Lifeguards say the surfer suffered cuts and bruises but was otherwise okay.

  • February 2, 2015woman suffered major trauma after fall off cliffs

A woman suffered major trauma after she fell from a ledge at Sunset Cliffs at night. The 43-year-old female lost consciousness and suffered neck and back injuries. A helicopter lowered water personnel 30 to 40 feet down to help rescue the woman. They put her on a backboard and extracted her, then taken to a hospital. She suffered major trauma but was able to talk to first responders, though she did not remember how she had fallen from the cliffs. s

  • February 15, 2015Surfer rescued after fall on rocks; 2nd person also rescued

One rescue involved a surfer who fell onto some rocks at Sunset Cliffs. 2 people were rescued.

  • ~May 24, 2015Woman rescued after serious injuries in fall

A woman was injured when she fell 65 feet down a cliff at Sunset Cliffs in the area of Hill Street and Sunset Cliffs Boulevard. The 50 year old woman was airlifted to a hospital, having suffered serious head, neck and back injuries, but was conscious and talking when crews came to her rescue, according to reports from the scene.

  • July 12, 2015Teen girl injured leg after slip at Sunset Cliffs

A teenage girl was injured when she slipped on the reef at Sunset Cliffs. San Diego Lifeguards pulled the girl, 15, from the water and up the stairs onto Ladera Street near Sunset Cliffs Boulevard. She suffered a leg injury and was taken to UCSD Hospital for further evaluation.

  • August 7, 2015Man rescued after jumping off Sunset Cliffs.

Lifeguards were called out to Sunset Cliffs to rescue a man who was injured while cliff diving. A man landed facedown in the water after leaping from the cliffs and the jump knocked him unconscious. Bystanders rushed to pull him out of the ocean. By the time rescuers arrived, the man was alert and talking. Lifeguards, who strapped the patient in a stretcher, had to use a crane to lift him from the rocks. He was taken to the hospital for unknown injuries.

  • August 11, 2015Intoxicated man rescued after 80 foot fall off Sunset Cliffs

A man, 31, was intoxicated and ignored several “Danger Stay Back” barriers along the cliff when he fell at 4400 Ladera Street. Several people found him unconscious at the bottom of the cliff, and he was severely bleeding from a serious head injury suffered in the fall. San Diego Fire airlifted him to UCSD Medical Center. He was reportedly awake, but did not remember the fall or even his own name.

  • August 30, 2015Missing swimmer’s body found near Santa Cruz Avenue

Brian Wilson, 23, went missing near Sunset Cliffs while swimming with a friend when he disappeared in the waters near Santa Cruz Avenue. His body was found in the area two days later.

  • September 11, 2015Injured cliff jumper rescued

Lifeguards rescued an injured man after he jumped off a bluff into the ocean at Sunset Cliffs, a spot popular for cliff-jumping even though it is illegal. The jumper, who appeared to be in his 20s, had done a flip and hit the water face-first. Lifeguards secured him onto a backboard from a rocky outcropping below the 20-foot cliff, and hauled him up. The rescue took about half an hour, and he was taken to a trauma center by ambulance.


{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

PL Local December 29, 2015 at 9:09 am

Time to build a massive wall to keep out the kooks. They obviously can’t read the giant warning signs.


Bob December 29, 2015 at 11:55 am

Haha a local? I think not, please go home. OB does not want you here.


PL Local December 30, 2015 at 12:05 pm

Who are you? I’ve lived in PL/OB for almost 30 years.


Oh jeez... December 29, 2015 at 10:08 am

Just flushing out the dumb is all…
It’s not like there aren’t a ton of warning signs around.


Steve December 29, 2015 at 10:39 am

Natural selection?


Marilyn Steber December 29, 2015 at 2:17 pm

I commented on the New York News site’s headline and couldn’t believe a comment by a person in Vancouver who said the cliffs are stable. She comes here every year, so she should know, right?
I sent the Rag’s stats.
Naturally, many on that site are thinking “Lawsuit, lawsuit lawsuit” or “serves the guy right”.
I am thinking of the guy in “Auntie Mame” who was trying to get a better shot of Mame and fell off an alpine ledge.


CliffHanger December 29, 2015 at 4:26 pm

Winding up hurt or dead at the bottom of the cliffs after an intentional act differs from winding up there at the bottom by accident. The lack of respect for the power of nature that results in accidents (the waves, the tides, the sheer cliffs) is paralleled by the lack of respect for its beauty (graffiti on the cliffs, trash dropped everywhere). Falling off a cliff to your death because you were distracted by a mobile device is the ultimate symbol of this idiocy; distracted by the fake world of a cellphone while missing out on the sunset you were supposedly there to appreciate.

I doubt there’s anything realistically to be done beyond the current signage. I walk along the cliffs often at sunset and the majority of people there are definitely not from here, seem to have no understanding of the fragility of the environment and no care for how they leave it when they speed off down Sunset Cliffs within moments of the sun setting (usually missing the best part).

Maybe we can amend the sign at the entrance of Sunset Cliffs and 8: Welcome to Ocean Beach, Please Respect our Beaches, Town and Cliffs.


Geoff Page December 30, 2015 at 3:41 pm

I have warned people many, many times about being way too close to the cliff edge and I have never gotten a positive response or a thank you. I usually get odd looks or get ignored. I’ve been in the construction business for 40 years, much of it spent dealing with the earth. The conditions along the bluffs and in the canyons would not be acceptable to the California Occupational Safety and Health (CalOSHA) for construction workers to work under or near. The material at the cliff edges is very fragile but doesn’t look like it to the untrained eye. People do dumb things despite good advice. I don’t think anyone should die or get badly hurt because of that but there is nothing we can do about human nature. We can only keep warning and hope it saves someone.


rick callejon December 30, 2015 at 6:58 pm

Geoff et al., I agree. We can only hope.


Frank Gormlie December 30, 2015 at 7:10 pm

Hey Rick- trying to reach you. Check phone messages.


Frank Gormlie September 8, 2017 at 11:37 am

On May 28, 2015 CBS8 reported:

SAN DIEGO (CBS 8) – On Thursday, a surfer made a gruesome discovery of a woman’s body floating in the water near the Ocean Beach Pier. The identity and what happened to the woman remains a mystery. The unclothed body floating in the water seemed to have been in the water for an extended period of time, according to San Diego Police.

A beachgoer who was walking along the Ocean Beach Pier called 911 immediately after spotting the body in the water. The badly decomposed corpse had been in the ocean for at least a day, or longer, according to authorities. The body’s condition was so compromised it was not possible to immediately determine the woman’s age or race.

Ocean Beach resident Corey Burgoa had been surfing the pier when the discovery was made. He said the discovery now makes him question his safety. “What’s going on? Why did that guy end up there? When am I going to be there?” he asked.

Lifeguards responded to the emergency call and were able to recover the lifeless, naked body and brought it to shore, the medical examiner undertook a preliminary investigation. No signs of foul play were immediately found. There are no indications of trauma to the body, according to authorities.

A difficult question to answer is the identity of the woman. There have been not reports of anybody missing, according to police. The medical examiner will continue to investigate and try and determine who the woman is and exactly how she died.

Authorities are asking the public for help with any information on the identity of the victim.”

The woman turned out to be Victoria Zubkis, daughter of scandal-ridden Wall Street character Vladislav “Steven” Zubkis ; see this:


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