A Richmond man died Tuesday in the ocean off Point Reyes after a sneaker wave overtook his wife and dog, and he entered the water to help them.
Charles Francis Quaid, 59, was knocked down repeatedly by oncoming waves and couldn't make it back to shore, said Mike Giannini, Marin County fire battalion chief. Ultimately, Quaid was drawn out to deep water until those on shore could no longer see him.
Quaid and his wife were among a multitude of people who flocked to North Coast beaches on New Year's Day for what some consider an annual rite, said John Golda, a ranger at Point Reyes National Seashore.
They were on North Beach, an unprotected shoreline exposed to the Pacific Ocean, when the waves overcame them shortly after 12:30 p.m.
Golda said the waves were reported at 10 to 12 feet along a stretch of beach where sneaker waves and strong undertows are common.
"This is one of those terrible aspects of a spot so pretty like this," he said. "We tend to forget how dangerous the waves can be, and we get sneaker waves that seem to break all the rules of the waves that you've been watching all day."
The beach may have been more crowded because of the closure of Limantour Road for repair, and there were numerous people who saw the woman and dog get hit by a large wave.
Bystanders were able to help her and the dog out of the surf but Quaid could not be saved, and he drifted out of sight, Giannini said.
The U.S. Coast Guard and National Park Service launched vessels to search for him, while Coast Guard and CHP helicopters conducted an overhead search. A multi-agency water rescue team contributed Jet Skis and divers to the search, while both Marin County and Inverness firefighters responded.
Quaid's body was spotted in the ocean around 4 p.m. and was recovered by a Bodega Bay Coast Guard crew, Giannini said.
Quaid's wife, whose name could not be confirmed, was evaluated by paramedics and deemed unhurt, he said.
"What a tragedy for her," Giannini said.
"You go out looking for a great way to start the new year, and then it ends up like this."
You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 521-5249 or firstname.lastname@example.org.