A 50, 53, 54 or 57-year old man, depending on where you get your information, walked out into the San Francisco Bay from Crown Memorial State Beach late Monday afternoon. His alleged intention was to commit suicide. That’s what he told his step-mother who called 911. He reportedly paced back and forth for a time, fully clothed, on the beach, before walking out into the surf, standing in chest-deep water with his hands in the air. He bobbed in the water for over an hour under the watch of Alameda rescue personnel and some 75 witnesses. He was approximately 150 yards from shore. No one went in to save him, although one individual tried to get his sailboard close enough to help.
The water in the bay is estimated to be 54 degrees at this time of year, and a human will suffer hypothermia in a very short time. The United States Search and Rescue Task Force has a risk list for how long it will take for hypothermia to set in, and how long you can expect to survive in cold water. If the water temperature is between 50 and 60 degrees, time until exhaustion or unconsciousness is 1 to 2 hours. Expected time of survival in the water is 1 to 6 hours. If the temperature drops to between 40 and 50 degrees, the time frames are cut in half. Expected time of survival in the water is 1 to 3 hours, and unconsciousness would occur in 30-60 minutes.
According to a statement released by the Alameda Police Monday evening, “(the) Alameda Fire Department does not currently have, and is not certified, in land-based water rescues. The city of Alameda primarily relies on the United States Coast Guard for these types of events.” Kind of a strange policy for a city on the bay, but then there were budget cuts. The headlines: “Rescuers Stay Dry as Man Drowns”; “‘Handcuffed by Policy,’ Fire Crews Watch Man Die.”; “Alameda Police, Firefighters, Watch As Man Drowns, Blame Budget Cuts.”
The United States Coast Guard said the water was too shallow for their boat, and the helicopter took 65 minutes to get there because it had to refuel after coming off another mission. According to others the largest boat the Coast Guard has in the area, a 47-footer, has a draft of 4 and 1/2 feet. I’m going to venture to say that the Coast Guard didn’t do even close to enough in this incident. The Coast Guard doesn’t have life rafts on board?
“We’re not trained to go into the water, obviously the type of gear that we have on, we don’t have the type of equipment that you would use to go into the water,” Alameda Police Lt. Joe McNiff said.” They wouldn’t even go in after the body, a 20-year old woman, swam out and brought the man’s body to shore. I don’t think she was wearing a wetsuit either.
The Alameda City Council has reversed their policy on water-rescues following the incident, of course. It almost looks like the rescue personnel did NOTHING as a political statement. WTF. Can you imagine being a rescue worker and not being able to help because of a city policy? They responded within minutes of the 911 call, and then were under orders to do nothing.
But what is really even more disturbing about this incident, in my humble opinion, is that none of the witnesses tried to help. Some of them were actually interviewed saying they expected someone to help at some point (obviously not them). I understand not everyone is a hero, but we now have “Good Samaritan Laws” and civil liability, and, in this case, knowing full well if you got into trouble while trying to rescue the man, the authorities weren’t going to do anything to help you. That would have made most of us possible heroes think twice. But still, how is it possible that on a Memorial Day weekend at the beach, no one was around with a wetsuit, a small watercraft, that knew someone with a boat, or a surfboard. The way the story is written no one did anything but watch the man drown.