Family members and friends of a missing swimmer gathered Monday at Torrey Pines State Beach to comfort each other and look for the body of 18 year old Troy Le.
Le's father held a pair of binoculars and had his son's shirt draped around his neck. "I feel comfortable with his smell on here, I still feel like he's around somewhere," said Thao Le. "I don't know what to do. I just want to find him, alive or dead, I want to see him."
Le is being called a hero after trying to save his girlfriend, 19 year old Jessica Eung who according to lifeguards was being pulled out into the ocean.
Family members say Le's actions were all the more heroic given the fact he didn't know how to swim.
"The next thing you knew she was pulled out by a rip current, all the way out to the ocean and then he just jumped in to help her. They said it looked like he was trying to push a boogie board to her and that's how he drowned," said Le's older sister Linda Le. "No one has slept, we've just been up in his room the last few days."
Le, a Mission Bay Senior High School grad, had recently started dating Eung, who is a freshman tennis player at Grossmont College.
Eung is listed in critical condition at Scripps La Jolla according to a hospital spokeswoman.
Friends of Le's were voicing their sorrow on social media sites.
"Troy you ain't gone," Andy Tran posted on Facebook. "You need to come back to all of us. I know you [sic] out there somewhere. Just know I'm praying for you man."
"In disbelief -- praying," reads a status update on Kathleen Thol's Facebook page.
Lifeguards think that Eung stepped into an "inshore hole," where the ocean floor drops off several feet, and the rip current pulled her out at about 6:30 p.m.
"They got caught in a rip current, a very powerful rip current," lifeguard Lt. Ed Vodrazka said. "They were pulled offshore here between Tower 2 and Tower 3. They were probably pulled 50 to 75 yards offshore.”
Witnesses said Le had a boogie board with him.
"Unfortunately the rip current got a hold of his girlfriend and pulled her away," said Dustin Ulibarri. "They got separated and he started panicking, yelling for help."
Witnesses told lifeguards that Le got the boogie board to Eung before he disappeared.
Lifeguards had already left the beach and were not on scene at the time.
"[They] were already on top of the hill getting ready to go off duty, servicing their equipment and they came back down the hill," Vodrazka said.
Two lifeguards jumped into the water to try to retrieve the victims. They pulled the unconscious woman to shore and paramedics started CPR as lifeguards continued to search for the missing man.
“We actually had one of our rangers who stripped down into plain clothes and swam out there to try to help the rescue effort as well,” Lt. Vodrazka said.
But there was no sign of Le.
“We started an exhaustive search. We had three different lifeguard agencies working here, San Diego city, state lifeguards and Del Mar,” Lt. Vodrazka said.
They continued with 20 lifeguards in the water to try to find the second victim – to no avail.
"We needed to terminate the search [Saturday] night for the safety of the divers and lifeguards on scene," Vodrazka said.
At daybreak on Sunday, they returned to the water and started a recovery effort.
Lifeguards are warning swimmers that rip currents are prevalent this time of year but the El Nino conditions are making it even worse. Big waves have chewed up the bottom of the ocean and created deep channels.
“Those channels are creating very dangerous rip currents. The combination of the rips, the cold water, both these swimmers had no wetsuits on, it doesn’t sounds like they were very good swimmers at all and there were no lifeguards on duty,” Lt. Vodrazka said.
Lifeguards recommend that only experienced swimmers should be in the water in these conditions.
“It’s like a river pulling out to sea. If a swimmer gets stuck in that or gets pulled in that they can get pulled offshore and it’s very difficult to swim against the impact of that water and the power of that water flowing out to sea,” Lt. Vodrazka said.
If you do get caught in a rip they recommend that you swim parallel to shore so you’re away from the pull of the rip and then swim back in.
“Apparently people on the shore were yelling to them to do this, but they probably didn’t understand or couldn’t hear them,” Lt. Vodrazka said.
The woman was taken to the intensive care unit at Scripps La Jolla. Vodrazka said it appears the young man saved her life.