Deaths and Dangers at Beautiful Sunset Cliffs : A Survey from 2005 through 2018

by on June 12, 2019 · 4 comments

in Ocean Beach

Sunset Cliffs mattwood

Sunset Cliffs. Photo by Matthew Wood

Originally posted Feb. 25, 2019

The OB Rag has been tracking deaths and serious injuries caused by or at Sunset Cliffs since 2005 -14 years. And we have found a yearly average of 5 deaths or serious injuries at our world-renown cliffs. These include surfers who’ve had heart attacks out in the water, divers who didn’t make it back alive and people who have suffered fatal falls.

Here’s a chart showing the deaths and serious injuries for the years 2005 through 2018, last year. And it’s based on what information and data we have available to us. It shows a total of 24 deaths and 49 serious injuries during that period.

We have conducted this on-going chronicle as a public service project, to make people aware of the dangers of Sunset Cliffs and of the rocks and waters below the cliffs. This is not an advocacy for more and more fencing – it’s an advocacy for more and more public education.

Yet we also wish to acknowledge the human tragedies that have played out on our rocky shores. The tragedies involve locals and out of town visitors. Going back to the beginning of our survey, it includes the 54-year old scuba diver from Carlsbad whose body was discovered off the cliffs on Halloween 2005. It includes a an incident in late November 2008 when a local OB woman’s body was found at the bottom of the Cliffs in an area where her family and friends said she loved to walk, about a half-mile from her home on Orchard Street in Ocean Beach.

Our list includes a 25-year-old woman visiting from Chicago who fell off Sunset Cliffs and died in mid-January 2014. She had been believed to have been taking a photo of the sunset when ground beneath her gave way and she fell 40 to 50 feet.

That same year, 2014, a well-known and very experienced surfer succumbed just days after he fell ill on Dec.23rd after surfing southern Sunset Cliffs less than 3 days after a large storm. His death was due to a highly aggressive form of staph caught while surfing.

We included the December 25, 2015 death of a 33-year-old man from Indiana who was distracted by an electronic device and fell 60 feet to his death at the Cliffs.

And it includes a man who had been fishing near Luscom’s and who jumped into the ocean on July 24th, 2016 reportedly to cool off, and ran into trouble immediately, according to bystanders. As he struggled, he hit his head against the reef. One or 2 people jumped in and tried to save him, and one of them tried to keep the victim afloat. Emergency crews arrived and pulled him from the water, but their efforts at resuscitating him were unsuccessful and he was pronounced dead at the scene.

On January 21, 2017, a young woman from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, died after being swept off rocks at the end of Santa Cruz Avenue. A month later, an Arizonan woman’s body was found off Mission Beach after reportedly taking photos at Sunset Cliffs and went missing a couple days earlier. Police tracked her parked car to Monaco Street, near Sunset Cliffs and found her purse and backpack concealed under clothing inside the car.

Then in early January of 2018, a 56-year old surfer had a heart attack while surfing near Point Loma Nazarene University.

There’s many stories here, many rescues by strangers and more rescues by the unsung heroes of the lifeguard and rescue departments.

A word about our methodology and the gaps

Immediately the gaps in the chart jump out (no deaths from 2009 through 2013?) So, here are comments about our methodology.

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Rescue at Sunset Cliffs, April 1, 2010. Photo by Jim Grant.

First, the graph is very incomplete. And our numbers and totals probably very low. We didn’t begin to chart the human tragedies until 2015, so for the years previous, we had to rely on archival news reports and eyewitnesses. Without access to city lifeguard or rescue data, we’ve had to use only those deaths and injuries and rescues that make the news and are publicly known. Many do not make the news cycle – and there’s hardly ever any follow-up to the stories of falls, etc. by our mainstream media.

This means the data from the years 2014 through 2018 is more accurate and complete. (If we use just the numbers from these last 5 years, there’s an average of 11 deaths or serious injuries.)

Also to be clear, many of our numbers include cliffside rescues by lifeguards. It’s true that not all rescues involve serious physical injuries, but if you’re flown out by helicopter, we count you.

Our graph does not include drownings at the beach – such as the Halloween drowning of OB resident Scott Bowles and does not include rescues at the beach. Neither does it include boat or panga rescues off the cliffs. It also does not include drownings or injuries on Point Loma’s bay side.

Our survey does include 2 fatalities and 1 serious injury from falls off the OB Pier.

Another point, you can see an uptick in injuries beginning in 2014, what with the popularity of certain jump points.

So, without further, let us present this updated and edited version of our first survey report, Death and Distress at Sunset Cliffs, 2005 – 2015.


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.

With the park along the cliffs celebrating its centennial in 2015, the Cliffs themselves – as they have for thousands of years – continue to erode and evolve with time, and sections fall or collapse to the water and beaches below. (See Needle’s Eye rock formation that has eroded away.)

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

(Here is more history of the dangers of Sunset Cliffs – including a 1941 rock slide that killed 2 OB children, by OB historian, Carol Bowers, in a 1988 article in the San Diego Reader.)

So, here is the start of the chronicle – and importantly, we feel it’s not complete as more research needs to be done.


Deaths, Serious Injuries and Rescues at Sunset Cliffs: 2005 – 2018

2005 ___________________________________________

  • January 20, 2005Surfer dies of apparent seizure

A surfer, 40, died after an apparent seizure at Sunset Cliffs while in the water below Point Loma Nazarene University, an area known as Ab’s Reef. Other surfers and city lifeguards tried to revive him, before he was airlifted to a hospital, where he passed away

  • October 31, 2005 Diver’s body found off Sunset Cliffs

A missing scuba diver’s body was discovered off Sunset Cliffs, and was identified as a 54 year old man from Carlsbad – a moderately experienced diver. He was reportedly diving in 60 to 80 feet of water in a spot known for its kelp beds when he did not resurface with his diving partner.

2006 _______________________________________________

  • March 5, 2006Lifeguards rescue surfer from cave

A surfer was forced into a cave by waves and held prisoner by the pounding surf before San Diego lifeguards rescued him yesterday. The 53-year-old man from Honolulu was surfing off Osprey Point when he became trapped against the cliffs.

  • May 25, 2006Surfer in distress dies after rescue

A surfer battered by high tides and surf below Sunset Cliffs was pulled from the water unconscious and could not be revived. He was a 53-year-old man visiting from New Jersey. Lifeguards were summoned to the spot offshore below Point Loma Nazarene University.

  • July 2, 2006Rescue efforts fail to save swimmer

A 60-year-old man drowned in the Sunset Cliffs area despite rescue efforts by other swimmers, lifeguards and paramedics. San Diego lifeguards received reports of a person in distress just north of Osprey Point. Initially, 2 beachgoers swam out to assist him and dragged him into a nearby cove, where they began cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

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Rescue – Oct. 2009.


  • March 25, 2007Woman falls 10 feet from cliff, breaks leg

A 35-year-old woman was rescued from an ocean bluff at Sunset Cliffs after she fell and broke a leg. The incident happen at the foot of Ladera Street. She had fallen10 feet from the top of the cliffs and was taken to a hospital.

  • August 10, 2007Kayaker safe after all-night ordeal

A Clairemont man, 29, who spent the night in the ocean after his kayak sank was rescued from a beach south of Sunset Cliffs — some 17 hours after he began and about five miles away. He was suffering from extreme hypothermia when he was found on the beach in the part of Point Loma known as Wooded Area.

  • August 10, 2007Man pulled from water dies after being rescued

A 60-year-old San Diego man died after he was pulled from the water in Sunset Cliffs. The man had jumped into the water from an outcropping of land near Sunset Cliffs Blvd near Adair Street just after 6 p.m. and then appeared to be having difficulty. After he was rescued, he collapsed on the beach.

2008 __________________________________________________

  • November 30, 2008Woman dies in cliff fall

An OB woman fell off the cliffs, and her body was found at the bottom of a cliff off Sunset Cliffs Boulevard in an area where her family and friends said she loved to walk, about a half-mile from her home on Orchard Street in Ocean Beach.

2009 ___________________________________________________

  • March 29, 2009Man hurt hitting rocks in dive from 20-foot cliff:

A 23-year-old man suffered a head injury when he jumped into the water at Sunset Cliffs. The man dived off a 20-foot cliff at the foot of Del Monte Avenue and hit his head on rocks in the water. The man had cuts on the top of his head.

  • April 13, 2009Two men critically hurt after falling off cliff

Two men were critically injured after falling 50 to 60 feet off a bluff at Sunset Cliffs. A rescue helicopter airlifted one of the men to an ambulance and flew the second man to a hospital.

2010 __________________________________________________

  • July 19, 2010 – Lifeguards and off-duty OB firefighter pull man from ocean off Sunset Cliffs

    lifeguards save 7-19-10 jg 02

    Photo by Jim Grant.

    Sometimes, you just can’t get away from your public duties if you’re a first responder. OBcean Rob Lukaszewicz was reading quietly on his deck overlooking the cliffs on Monday late in the afternoon when he spotted somebody seemingly in trouble out in the ocean. Rob, a firefighter for nine years, grabbed his binoculars, and sure enough – some guy was having problems with a small boat. Rob grabbed his surfboard and paddled out to see what was going on. He ended up helping to save a man’s life.

    Lifeguards had dashed to the scene on their personal water craft and skiff, and together they brought the guy who was now unconscious out of the water. He was given CPR and other first aid, and taken to the ER. The unidentified guy did survive – thanks to lifeguards Mike Gilmore and Jim Birdsell who were assisted by Lukaszewicz Here’s the Union-Tribune report by Susan Shoder. (Thanks again to Jim Grant.)

2011 __________________________________________________

  • March 16, 2011Man credits fellow surfers with saving him after possible heart attack

A Point Loman credits other surfers for rescuing him while on a surfing trip near Sunset Cliffs. Doctors think the 61 year old may have ha a heart attack while paddling out. The surfers he was with held him until lifeguards came to his rescue, hauled him onto a boat and transported him to Mission Bay where he was taken to a hospital.

2012 ___________________________________________________

  • July 23, 2012Injured cliff jumper rescued by helicopter

A 16-year-old boy was rescued via helicopter off Sunset Cliffs due to injuries after a friend jumped from a cliff and landed on top of him while he was in the water, near Sunset Cliffs Boulevard and Osprey Street.

  • September 17, 2012Man Knocked out in leap at Sunset Cliffs

A 24-year-old man suffered head injuries when he jumped into the ocean at Sunset Cliffs. The man hit his head on a rock below the water’s surface after jumping 25 feet to 30 feet into the ocean at low tide, off Sunset Cliffs Boulevard at Osprey Street. A bystander came to the aid of the man, who was unconscious.

2013 ____________________________________________________

  • June 18, 20132 Men rescued – one had injured shoulder

Emergency crews came to the rescue of two men trapped by a rising ocean tide at the base of a rocky bluff in the Sunset Cliffs area, near Woodward Road, south of Point Loma Nazarene University. Fire-Rescue crews rappelled down the roughly 30-foot-high cliff to the victims and hauled them to safety, a process that took about 45 minutes, . Medics took one of the men to a hospital for treatment of a shoulder injury he apparently had suffered while surfing in the area. His companion was unhurt

  • July 30, 2013Driver plunges off Sunset Cliffs in car onto beach

A motorist drove over a bluff in Sunset Cliffs landing wheels down on the sand in a small cove below. The driver was able to get out of the car on his own following the impact, below the parking lot off Sunset Cliffs Boulevard at Osprey Street. It appeared the back end of the four-door car hit the rocks as it plunged down the cliff, estimated at 35 to 40 feet high.

2014 _________________________________________________________

  • January 13, 2014Chicago visitor dies from Sunset Cliffs fall

A 25-year-old woman who was visiting San Diego from Chicago fell from Sunset Cliffs and died. She was believed to have been taking a photo of the sunset when ground beneath her gave way and she fell 40 to 50 feet. Several bystanders tried to revive Anna Bachman, but paramedics confirmed her death when they arrived.

  • March 16, 2014 – Driver of vehicle that drove off cliffs rescued

Driver of car that went off the end of Orchard Street near Cable Street rescued by helicopter hoist and flown to a local hospital with unknown injuries. Fox5

  • July 15, 2014Man falls to his death at Sunset Cliffs

A 27-year-old man fell to his death from a four-story-tall sea bluff while visiting Sunset Cliffs with friends in the wee hours of the morning. A 911 call was made shortly before 4 a.m. to report the accident near the terminus of Ladera Street. Emergency personnel found the man at the foot of a roughly 40-foot bluff, and crews put his body on a litter and used a rope-and-pulley system to bring it up to street level. The victim’s friends told authorities he was walking along the edge of the precipice when he lost his footing.

  • August 22, 2014Woman Injured After Diving Off Cliff

A woman was injured after diving off a cliff at Sunset Cliffs, at Osprey Point. The 52-year-old woman jumped head-first from the cliffs and hit her head on the bottom. Bystanders pulled her from the water, and lifeguards and paramedics checked on her condition. Emergency crews airlifted her to a hospital with possible spinal injuries.

  • October 12, 2014 – 3 Men Nearly Drown

A group of three men nearly drowned after two ran into the water dressed in jeans near Hill Street and Sunset Cliffs Boulevard. The two soon ran into trouble and began fighting through the large surf and strong rip currents off the cliffs, and began screaming for help. Another man in his mid-20s, rushed in to help them but got caught up himself, becoming the worst off. One man was taken away by helicopter, another was lifted out by a large yellow crane poised on the cliffs and the third was carried out by stretcher. All three men were considered near drowning victims by authorities, Apparently out of town visitors, they showed up and were unprepared for the dangerous waves at the bottom of the dangerously steep cliffs. At last check, two of the victims were in serious condition according to officials. The third was able to walk up the cliffs after the rescue.

  • December 12, 2014Two teens rescued after jump off cliffs

Lifeguards used a crane to haul two teenage boys out of the pounding surf after they jumped off a cliff in Ocean Beach along Sunset Cliffs Boulevard near Froude Street. They were being dashed against rocks and weren’t able to swim to safety on their own.

  • December 25, 2014Well-known local surfer dies from highly aggressive form of staph

Barry Ault, 72, succumbed just days after he fell ill on Dec.23rd after surfing southern Sunset Cliffs less than 3 days after a large storm. His death was due to a highly aggressive form of staph caught while surfing.

2015 _________________________________________________________

  • 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.

  • December 7, 2015 Surfer Rescued Off Ladera

During a high surf advisory, on Dec. 7th, lifeguards rushed to the aid of a stranded surfer off the coast of Point Loma. San Diego Lifeguards determined one person was in distress around 5:45 p.m. south of Ladera Street. A rescue helicopter crew was called to pluck the stranded surfer from the rocky shore of Point Loma. A high surf advisory was issued along the San Diego County coast through Tuesday evening. Fox5

  • December 12, 2015 – Three Surfers Rescued – One With Head Injury

Three male surfers in their 20s were rescued from the Sunset Cliffs Natural Park after crashing into some rocks. One surfer suffered a head injury and was transported to UCSD Medical Center. The condition of the other two men was not made available. San Diego lifeguards repelled down the cliffs to remove the surfers. SanDiego6

  • December 25, 2015 – Man looking at cell phone suffers fatal injuries in fall off cliffs

A 33-year-old man who was distracted by an electronic device fell 60 feet to his death at San Diego’s Sunset Cliffs on Christmas Day, according to San Diego Lifeguards. The incident happened on the 900 block of Sunset Cliffs Boulevard. The man — identified as Joshua M. Burwell, of Sheridan, Indiana — tumbled off the side of a cliff, authorities said. “Witnesses stated seeing someone distracted by an electronic device and he just fell over the edge,” said San Diego Lifeguard Bill Bender. “(He) wasn’t watching where he was walking, he was looking down at the device in his hands.” 7SanDiego

2016 ___________________________________________

  • February 6, 2016 – Man’s Body Found in Water Off Osprey Street

Martin Paul McDermott’s body was found floating in the water off Osprey Street in the Sunset Cliffs area of Point Loma. The body was first spotted about a half mile to 3/4’s of a mile off the cliffs. It was estimated that the badly decomposed body of a man in his 30’s had been in the water at least a week. No signs of trauma or obvious cause of death were found on the body. OB Rag

  • February 28, 2016 – Man injured by fall after trying to retrieve remote control glider

Peak Rescue instructors responded with a team of Lifeguards and Firefighters to a report of a fall with injuries at Sunset Cliffs. The male had reportedly attempted to access the beach in a hazardous area to retrieve a remote control glider. A lifeguard paramedic and a firefighter paramedic were lowered down the cliff where they determined the patient to be a major trauma. A Fire-Rescue helicopter was dispatched and the patient was airlifted to the hospital. PeakRescues

  • July 5, 2016 – Man Falls to His Death Off Sunset Cliffs

An unidentified man fell to his death, July 5th, near Ladera Street. The 65-year-old guy from San Diego was pronounced dead at the scene, having reportedly fallen 75 to 80 feet into the ocean. A loud thud was heard by passersby, and a man jumped into the water and pulled the victim out. OB Rag

  • July 10, 2016 – Woman Found at Bottom of Cliffs – Airlifted Out

A woman on July 10th was found at the bottom of the cliffs and had to be air-lifted by helicopter off the beach. Lifeguards and other first responders had to climb down the cliffs to get to her and administered CPR. This occurred in 800 block of Sunset Cliffs Boulevard. OB Rag

  • July 19, 2016 – Woman Saved by Good Samaritan at End of Del Monte

A Good Samaritan saved a 51-year-old woman after she fell off Sunset Cliffs into the ocean, July 19th. The woman somehow fell from the cliffs into the ocean and was immediately pulled out further by the rip current. A nearby resident, Sean Hanrahan, saw that the woman apparently having trouble in the waves, and saw her hit her head against rocks, and jumped in and kept her afloat until lifeguards arrived. She was unconscious when lifeguards pulled her up and said she was suffering from life-threatening injuries. Once she gained consciousness, she was taken to a local hospital and was expected to survive. OB Rag

  • July 23, 2016 – Surfer Knocked Unconscious – Hoisted Off Cliffs

A 49-year-old surfer slipped, hitting his head on a rocky edge along the cliffs near Osprey, on July 23rd, as he was getting out of the water and was knocked unconscious. When first reponders arrived, they found him being held up out of the water on the rocks by a friend. At that point, he didn’t have a pulse. CPR was performed and he revived. An air ambulance hoisted him from the cliffs and flew him to a nearby hospital.

  • July 24, 2016 – Fisherman Drowns After Getting Into Ocean Near Luscom’s

A man fishing near Luscom’s jumped into the ocean on July 24th, reportedly to cool off, and ran into trouble immediately, according to bystanders. Luscom’s is near Sunset Cliffs Boulevard and Monaco Street. The man had been fishing for about2 hours when bystanders saw him either climb down the cliffs and got in the water or jumped in. As he struggled, he hit his head against the reef. One or 2 people jumped in and tried to save him, and one of them tried to keep the victim afloat. Emergency crews arrived and pulled him from the water, but their efforts at resuscitating him were unsuccessful and he was pronounced dead at the scene. OB Rag

  • December 9, 2016 – Man Dies After Falling Down Cliffs

A man died on the beach below Sunset Cliffs. His body had been seen by a passerby who notified Fire-Rescue Department who then discovered that he died on the beach after tumbling at least 50 feet down the cliffs. Emergency crews tried to revive him, but he was pronounced dead on the beach.

2017 __________________________________________

  • January 21, 2017 – Woman Dies from Injuries after being swept off rocks by waves

Baton Rouge, Louisiana, a candle light vigil was held for Ariana Toro, the woman who died after being swept off rocks at the end of Santa Cruz Avenue in Ocean Beach January 21st. The vigil was held on Saturday, the 29th, as co-workers of Toro mourned her loss. Toro had only been in San Diego a week before she was pulled into the ocean by a large wave while walking along the beach. She was rescued by lifeguards and taken to a nearby hospital where she later died. OB Rag

  • February 18, 2017 – Surfer with leg-fracture Rescued off Sunset Cliffs

A surfer was rescued from rocks beneath Sunset Cliffs along the 1100 block of Sunset Cliffs Boulevard. The man recovered in the rescue suffered a lower-leg fracture. A local reported the surfer was forced into a cove and onto a rocky area by northward currents. He then handed his surfboard up to the local and other spectators and attempted to climb up a rock face to the surface of the cliff. The surfer was unable to negotiate the rock face and fell backwards onto the rocks below, which is when the leg injury occurred. NBC7

  • February 19, 2017- Arizona woman missing after visit to Sunset Cliffs – her body found March 5th off Mission Beach

The body of a 30-year-old Arizona woman who was reported missing in Feb., after disappearing near Sunset Cliffs was discovered in the ocean at Mission Beach. Investigators used dental records to identify Amanda Cruse’s decomposing corpse, which was pulled to shore by a bystander near Ocean Front Walk. The woman’s family had long feared Cruse fell into the ocean while taking pictures of a sunrise from the popular cliffside. Cruse, who drove to San Diego from Scottsdale, Ariz., was last seen leaving her Point Loma hotel early in the morning on Feb. 19. Using an iPhone application, police tracked her parked car to Monaco Street, near Sunset Cliffs. Officers found her purse and backpack concealed under clothing inside the car. Her high-quality digital camera was missing. Cruse, who went by Mandy, was born and raised in Canada and enjoyed traveling on her own. It was her first visit to San Diego. OB Rag

  • March 20, 2017 – Woman surfer slipped on rocks and injured back – rescue crew responds

San Diego Fire and Rescue (SDFD) crews were called to the stairs at Sunset Cliff’s just after dark Monday. It was a frightening few moments for a surfer. First responders said she slipped on the rocks below Sunset Cliffs, injuring her back. A passerby noticed her and called 911 for help. 7SanDiego

  • March 31, 2017 – Man drowns after jumping off OB Pier

A young man drowned after he had jumped off the OB Pier. The 27-year old and his girlfriend got into some kind of dispute with at least 2 other people. Although there were no reports of any physical altercation, at one point, the young man’s gear was thrown off the Pier by the other persons into the ocean. The young man then jumped off the Pier into the Pacific ostensibly to recover his things. And he got into trouble; the lifeguards later said the waves were 8 feet high. And for half an hour, lifeguards searched the waters around the pier, hampered by the waves and lots of seaweed. A San Diego police helicopter crew provided lighting for the rescue crews. Finally, the guy was found and pulled onto a lifeguard boat where CPR was started on him. He was taken to a hospital by medics but was pronounced dead. OB Rag

  • April 11, 2017 – Older man injured on rocks – hoisted up cliffs

A man was rescued from Sunset Cliffs. An SDFD helicopter was used in the rescue along Sunset Cliffs Boulevard and Osprey Street. A 61-year-old man was injured on the rocks near the water and needed to be hoisted up the cliff to receive medical attention, according to an SDFD spokesperson. 7SanDiego

  • May 15, 2017 – 2 Young men who jumped from Osprey Point cliff overcome by strong currents

Lifeguards rescued two men who jumped from a cliff near Osprey Point and were overcome by strong ocean currents. Both men, ages 21 and 23, were injured and ended up on the reefs. They were both extricated by lifeguards using a cliff rescue rig. One man had minor injuries, and the other is still being evaluated by medics. Fox5

  • July 30, 2017 – Stricken Man rescued by helicopter west of Point Loma Nazarene University campus

A male beachgoer experienced difficulty breathing July 30, and needed rescuing from a shrinking beach as tides rose. First responders learned he was actually about 200 yards directly below the campus. Due to the terrain, a helicopter was brought in to left him up onto land near the campus. The Beacon

  • October 3, 2017 – Young woman rescued by crane after injuring back while jumping off rocks

San Diego lifeguards and firefighters rescued a young woman who fell off a cliff while hiking with her boyfriend at the Point Loma tidepools Tuesday. Video of the rescue shows a crane pulling the 23-year-old woman from the cliff. Lifeguards said the boyfriend jumped about 10 feet off a rock onto a stretch of sand. His girlfriend also jumped but injured her back. The woman was taken to the hospital. 10News

  • October 6, 2017 – Woman who fell off cliffs saved by surfer

A local surfer, Matthew Alford, who is also a professor at La Jolla Scripps Institute of Oceanography, was surfing off of Hill Street and Sunset Cliffs. People on the cliff started yelling and pointing to a woman who had fallen off the cliff and was getting swept by the waves toward the rocks. Alford paddled over and got her on his surfboard and made it to shore. OB Rag

  • October 27, 2017 – Young man injured back in fall near OB Pier – rescued by first responders

A 30 year-old male suffered a back injury during a fall at Ocean Beach near the pier. Lifeguard and medical units responded, and he was taken to shore. OB Rag

2018 ________________________________________

  • January 5 – A 56-year old surfer had a heart attack while surfing near Point Loma Nazarene University.

Stan Searfus, a father of 6, and a lifeguard and surf coach for Coronado High and Coronado Middle schools, passed away after being rescued by lifeguards. From OB Rag 1/5/18 A memorial for him was held led by the Mayor of Coronado let a memorial service attended by hundreds.

  • February 15 – Man Injured in Fall Off Sunset Cliffs

From OB Rag, 2/16/18   A 30-year old guy survived a fall of roughly 50 feet down the bluff – just northwest of Sunset Cliffs Natural Park near Ladera Street – where the stairs had been recently closed – around 3 a.m. Conscious when emergency rescue crews reached him, he was airlifted to a local hospital with injuries of unknown severity.

June 14 Young Man Air-Lifted from Sunset Cliffs after Fall near Hill Street

A young man had to be air-lifted by chopper from rocks at the foot of Sunset Cliffs near Hill Street after a 30 foot fall on June 14. When rescued he was reportedly bleeding from his head. (In an updated version of our initial report on this incident, we reported that the man had died – but we never were able to confirm that.)

  •  July 1 – 29 year old woman fell from the cliffs at No Surf Beach

A 29 year old woman fell at No Surf an estimated 25 feet and was transported by helicopter to a local hospital (UCSD Medical Center).

  •  July 1- 20 year old guy fell 30 to 40 feet off the cliffs also at No Surf Beach. – Same Day as previous listing –

From OB Rag:  July 26, 2018

  • September 8Scuba Diver Dies Off Point Loma

From OB Rag  September 10, 2018 A 73-year-old scuba diver drowned while diving off the tide pool area near the sewage treatment plant in Point Loma.

  • September 19 – Woman Dies at Foot of Point Loma Avenue at Sunset Cliffs

From OB Rag: September 20, 2018 ·- A woman was found dead out on a stretch of rocks off Point Loma Avenue in south Ocean Beach. About 2:30 pm, a call came in to lifeguards, reporting a woman appeared to be stuck on the rocks. But by time first responders got to her, she had already passed.

Here are those we did not count as part of the yearly toll in 2018 were these:

    • November 9 – Body Found Floating in Pacific Ocean off Point Loma Avenue ; from OB Rag November 10, 2018

An unidentified body was discovered off Point Loma Avenue in Ocean Beach. According to police, the body had been in the ocean “a while”.

    • March 4-5 – Man’s Body Found After He Jumped Off Ocean Beach Pier; from OB Rag March 5, 2018

The body of as yet unidentified man was found washed ashore in Ocean Beach about 3 a.m. after he had jumped off the OB Pier around midnight.

    • January – Teen Who Nearly Drowned From Falling Off OB Pier Offers Warning

From OB Rag June 8, 2018 – A teenager who nearly drowned after falling off the Ocean Beach Pier this year thanked San Diego lifeguards for rescuing him and shared the importance of beach safety. He had been found by Lifeguards floating face down in the ocean and not breathing after falling off the OB Pier in January. By the time medics arrived, lifeguards had resuscitated him.

He said: “I am grateful, I am very grateful because if they didn’t get me I would’ve been lost for like a month.” He made a full recovery and shared some lessons at the city of San Diego’s Summer Safety event. “Just be careful the ocean is a lot more deadly than it looks; it’s a lot more powerful than you might think,” He added these tips:

    • Learn to swim and swim near a lifeguard
    • Follow the buddy system in the ocean or at city parks and lakes
    • Learn how to escape from a rip current
    • drink water and wear sunscreen on hot summer days

As we stated at the beginning of this survey, this is a public service and is NOT a push for more fencing. The cliffs are gorgeous and they’re also dangerous. Just as life can be.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Kathy Blavatt February 26, 2019 at 4:55 am

Frank- Good job on all this research. Teaching people to respect the cliffs is important. Having grown up on the last block of Sunset Cliffs I can tell you there are many serious injuries never reported. Pre-cell phones time people would come to our house to use the our phone to call in accidents. We had one fellow at midnight, knock, and then fall through our front door after he had fallen off the cliffs into the water. He’d been badly pounded against the rocks! The high curb at the end of Sunset Cliffs was always being hit hard by cars and motorcycles, especially at night. My dad got the City to put in a sign on Sunset Cliffs Blvd. that the road ends cut down on some of those type of accidents. It the sign is not there anymore, but they did put in an emergency phone. I’d say accidents are triple of what’s reported. Speeding, drinking, goofing off and not paying attention to the cliff edge, not knowing how to swim in ocean water/rip tides, not knowing the dangerous places, sitting under unstable cliffs after rainstorms, jumping into water where rocks are, getting to close to the edge of the cliff (especially while taking selfies), are just a few of the problems. The use of common sense could prevent a lot of accidents and deaths.


Ann Swanson February 26, 2019 at 9:27 am

A huge thank you for your important survey and excellent article which document deaths and rescue efforts at beautiful Sunset Cliffs!


OB Mercy February 26, 2019 at 3:31 pm

Great compilation. I wonder how this compares to other similar areas in San Diego. Too much research involved I’m sure!


Orah September 12, 2019 at 2:31 pm

Growing up at Sunset Cliffs, I used to jump at Osprey, too. Of course I thought I was immortal but i now know I was lucky to come away uninjured. Since then I’ve seen so many rescues I can no longer count them. Some summers it seems that hardly a weekend passes without ambulance or helicopters on the scene. Despite widely ignored warning signs, people still jump, hang out at the edge to shoot selfies and don’t seem to get that the ocean is wild and the cliffs are crumbling – and from time to time crashing down. You’ve put together a great compilation and the stories really hit home. Unfortunately people don’t see those when they visit the cliffs. I wonder if there’s a way to post some of those stories where they happened (possibly attached to the “stay back” signs?). A sobering reminder of nature’s power, in personal terms, might save a few lives.


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