A Sunday afternoon family outing at Goat Rock Beach near Jenner ended in tragedy after a father and his 6-year-old boy from Santa Rosa drowned.
The incident occurred around 2:20 p.m. According to a witness, two children and their father were in the water, but it was unclear whether the father had entered the surf to rescue his sons.
State Park Ranger Gregory Probst would not disclose the victims’ names but said they were from Santa Rosa.
Monte Rio Fire Chief Steve Baxman said the 31-year-old father and 6-year-old were pulled into the water by the strong current. The second boy made it safely to the beach.
“Undertow gets them all the time,” Baxman said. “This is really sad for all of us, especially this time of year when people should be celebrating.”
The names of the father and son were not released by the Sonoma County Coroner’s Office Sunday night.
A California State Parks lifeguard and about six people were able to pull the father out of the water around 2:40 p.m., according to Sandra Simmons of Los Angeles, who said she was among those wading in the surf trying to rescue the man.
“Just as we were about to get him to shore the first time we were hit by a wave. It was scary,” she said.
When emergency crews arrived, a lifeguard was performing CPR on the man, Baxman said. The man was pronounced dead shortly after.
For the next hour, three helicopters — belonging to the CHP, Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office and U.S. Coast Guard — patrolled the surf in search of the boy.
At one point a deputy was lowered into the ocean by the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office Henry 1 helicopter after spotting debris in the water, but did not find the 6-year-old, said Sgt. Henri Boustany.
The mother and two other children, including the one in the water earlier, watched the search from the beach, Simmons said.
Two Coast Guard boats scoured the waters around Goat Rock Beach until a Cal Fire official saw the child wash up on the shore around 3:45 p.m.
Baxman, sheriff’s deputies and other emergency personnel began performing CPR on him about 10 yards from the surf. The CHP helicopter landed nearby for a possible medical transport.
But at 3:53 p.m. the boy was pronounced dead.
The family was taken to Salmon Creek Ranger Station in Bodega Bay by state park officials where they met other family members gathered outside. They cried loudly and attempted to console each other with hugs. They declined to comment.
Goat Rock Beach and Wrights Beach, also in Sonoma Coast State Park, are two of the most dangerous beaches in the state, said Sgt. Tim Murphy, a lifeguard with California State Parks.
The sea floor drops off quickly and heavy swells crash directly onto the beach, Murphy said at the Salmon Creek Ranger Station, still wearing a wet suit a few hours after the incident.
Goat Rock Beach has been the site of numerous drownings over the years, including three deaths in 2016. One involved a 75-year-old Cotati woman who had gone there to memorialize her son. She had been standing at the edge of the surf and had thrown flowers into the water when several large waves knocked her down and swept her out to sea.