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Jet Skier Safe After Night Lost, Adrift in the Ocean

Rescue: Man is found 40 miles off La Jolla after his watercraft conks out on the way to Catalina Island with 12 others.

May 16, 1999|JACK LEONARD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A Jet Skier who lost his way while traveling from Newport Beach to Santa Catalina Island was plucked from his lifeless craft early Saturday after spending the night stranded 40 miles off the La Jolla coast.

Ovid Rijfkogel, 34, suffered slight hypothermia as temperatures dipped into the mid-50s Friday night but was treated and released from a San Diego hospital after his rescue, U.S. Coast Guard officials said.

The Orange County man was part of a group of 13 Jet Skiers who left for the popular, one-hour jaunt to the island early Friday afternoon. But the convoy ran into patchy fog and choppy waters, and two of them--including Rijfkogel--became separated.

Another member of the group, whom officials identified as A.J. Manbasser, was found safe Friday evening. But the hunt for Rijfkogel intensified that night as Navy ships and aircraft were called in to comb coastal areas. About 8:40 a.m. Saturday, a helicopter assigned to the USS Peleliu caught sight of the missing man waving a rag, sitting atop his personal water craft.

"They brought him back to the ship, dried him off and warmed him up," said Brian Brewmaker, assistant duty officer at the U.S. Coast Guard's West Coast headquarters in Alameda County. "He had truly lost his bearings and was motoring along in the wrong direction."

Getting lost is a common problem for riders of personal watercraft who attempt long trips, such as the 26-mile one from Newport Beach to Catalina, Brewmaker said. About a dozen people are rescued each year while trying to make the trip to the island, officials said.

"These Jet Skis don't have navigational equipment," he said. "If you become the least bit disoriented, which is what appears happened here, you have no way of getting your bearings."

But David Camp, an experienced Jet Skier and a salesman at a Huntington Beach motor vehicle store, said he and others have made the scenic trip safely numerous times.

"Every year we hear the same thing about one [person] missing Catalina Island," he said, adding that most people go in groups or take some kind of compass with them. But, he said, most experienced riders leave early in the morning before the swells pick up.

"The wind starts to blow in the afternoon and it gets pretty rough," he said. "Most people go out there, eat breakfast and then come back. If you're going to see the sights there, you're going to stay overnight."

The Coast Guard, however, recommends against such long open-ocean trips, noting that the route goes through shark-infested waters.

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