VENTURA — A 10-year veteran of the Ventura Harbor Patrol died Sunday after saving a woman and her two young children from a deadly riptide near the harbor's south jetty, authorities said.
Paul Korber, 45, was assisting in the rescue around 2 p.m. when he disappeared beneath the water, said Harbor Operations Manager Scott Miller. When Korber resurfaced, he was unconscious and not breathing, Miller said.
"I don't know for sure, but I think he may have hit his head on some rocks," said Miller, who was one of four emergency officials who participated in the rescue.
Korber, a Ventura widower, was an avid skin diver and scuba diver who was trained in such water rescues, Miller said.
"He was well-prepared for any situation in the water," he said.
Miller said this was the first rescue-related fatality involving a Ventura Harbor Patrol officer in the agency's 46-year history.
The South Jetty Beach is well-known for its treacherous conditions. On Labor Day in 1996, more than a dozen swimmers had to be plucked from riptides near the beach.
Sunday's incident occurred about 250 feet offshore when Karen Van Deventer of Canyon Country and her two sons, ages 7 and 11, were wading in the water near the south jetty next to Harbor Cove. Suddenly, a riptide pulled them out to sea, said Paul Hudson, a lifeguard who assisted in the rescue.
"People don't realize that they're being carried out. It happens so fast," he said. No lifeguards are normally stationed at the harbor beach, and swimmers are advised to enter the water at their own risk.
Miller and Korber arrived at the scene in a harbor patrol boat, and Hudson and another lifeguard who responded from the adjacent state beach ran out on the jetty to the location of the victims.
There were dozens of spectators on the jetty, and several sunbathers attempted to assist in the rescue, Miller said.
Korber dove off the boat and was trying to lead the trio out of the riptide when the accident occurred. Van Deventer and her children were on a boogie board when Korber reached them.
"It didn't look like he could swim them in, or out of the riptide, so he tried to get them to the jetty," Miller said.
"They were almost in the rocks," Hudson said.
Miller maneuvered the boat so that Van Deventer and her children could climb on board. When they were safely aboard, rescuers noticed that Korber had gone under the water, Hudson said.
The waves were about 3 to 4 feet high at the time, and sea conditions were extremely choppy, Hudson said.
"The waves were coming in close together, and the boat was literally lifted in the air by some of the waves," Hudson said.
Korber, who was plucked from the water within moments, was raced to shore and transported to Ventura County Medical Center. He never regained consciousness and was pronounced dead at the hospital, a spokesman said.
Korber had been a paramedic prior to joining the Harbor Patrol in June 1987. He taught himself Spanish over the years to communicate better with the public, Miller said.
"He was a terrific officer," Miller said. "He was well-versed in all phases of the job."
Korber is survived by a son, Barrett, 10, and a great-aunt who lives in the area, as well as his parents, who live near San Diego. His wife died of cancer several years ago.
Korber's parents were notified of their son's death Sunday afternoon, Miller said.
The seven remaining members of the Harbor Patrol gathered in a special meeting after the accident.
"They're dealing with it individually," Miller said.
Correspondent Cathy Murillo contributed to this story.