Three members of a Northern California family perished Saturday during a walk on the beach that became a failed rescue mission. Mary Elena Scott, 57, and her husband Howard Kuljian, 54, were found dead after their son ran into the waves in an attempt to rescue the family dog. Gregory “Geddie” Kuljian, 16, is still missing.
The family, including daughter Olivia Kuljian, was walking along Big Lagoon Beach near Orick in Humboldt County when the dog ran into the water during a game of fetch. A 10-foot wave appeared and swept the dog further out into the water, prompting Geddie to swim after it, according to the Times-Standard of Eureka. He was able to grab the dog by the collar, but that slipped off as Geddie was pushed further away from the beach.
The dog would survive but not until after being “rolled in the waves,” according to witnesses.
The county coroner’s office determined that Kuljian ran into the water to help his son before his wife followed. Remaining beachgoers had to stop each other from entering the water and instead tried to keep an eye on each person struggling in the waves. An unconscious Mary Elena Scott was dragged out of the ocean before her husband was found up the beach.
“The way that beach is, with the way the swell breaks, is a recipe for disaster,” said U.S. Coast Guard spokesman Bernie Garrigan.
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The Coast Guard called off the search for Geddie’s body about seven hours after he disappeared because of heavy fog and dropping temperatures. The Times-Standard also reported helicopters were on standby waiting for the visibility to increase along with two 47-foot motorboats that joined in the rescue effort.
Olivia Kuljian, 18, had called police along with at least one other beachgoer. Garrigan told The Daily Mail it would be nearly impossible to survive in the water without a wetsuit and mentioned “sneaker” waves that crash into the beach suddenly.
“Because the beach is designed that way, when that 10-foot wall breaks, it surges up on the beach and surges back really fast,” he said. “It’s like a cyclical washing machine.”