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Three drown in ocean at Point Mugu

November 28, 2008|Jack Leonard | Leonard is a Times staff writer.

Three men enjoying the ocean view at Point Mugu were swept to their deaths Thursday afternoon by a wave that pulled them into the water along with two companions who were able to scramble to safety, authorities said.

The victims -- ages 17, 19 and 21 -- were standing at the water's edge on the landmark Mugu Rock taking photographs of the ocean about 1:50 p.m. when a wave knocked them into the surf, Ventura County sheriff's officials said.

Two of the men managed to haul themselves out of the water and shout for help, and a passerby dived into the choppy ocean to try to save the other men, said Senior Sheriff's Deputy Julie Novak.

Kathryn Barrona said she took off her shoes and jumped into the chilly water when she saw one of the men floating face down. She managed to swim out and haul him back against the current and crashing waves, but he was already dead.

"It was really bad," said Barrona, 24, who had been sitting with her sister on the rocks before she realized the men were in trouble. "I couldn't tell you how cold the water was. I didn't realize how bad the current was."

Barrona said the waves and current smashed her against the rocks. She felt exhausted by the time she reached land. She threw up and then noticed that another man was in the water, but she was unable to go back out. A sheriff's helicopter searched for the remaining two and recovered their bodies.

The area, a popular destination for fishing, climbing and sightseeing, has long been known for its danger as well as for its beauty. Earlier this year, high waves swept a 16-year-old boy off the rock as he was fishing with relatives.

Novak said strong currents make it very difficult for people to swim to safety if they fall on the treacherous rocks.

"It is just very dangerous," she said. "It's very deceiving. It looks like it's very calm, but if you do get knocked in, it's very difficult to get out of the water."

A storm had moved through the area a day earlier, but ocean conditions were fairly normal Thursday afternoon, said David Gomberg, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

He said waves along the Central Coast were about 3 to 4 feet -- hardly dangerous conditions.

"This time of year, we can get a lot worse conditions in terms of winds and waves," he said.

Novak said the wave that hit the men was about 3 feet high but that the area's surf can be deceivingly powerful.

She said all five of the men lived together in Oxnard and some were related.

One of the survivors was identified as Pedro Vasquez, 27. The names of the others were not immediately released.

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jack.leonard@latimes.com

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