Swept Out to Sea: Riptide Kills Mom, Daughter

Family day of at the beach ends in tragedy

A mother and her young daughter are dead after they were swept out to sea by a riptide off a beach in San Mateo County Monday afternoon.

Romila Higgins, 43, and her 4-year-old daughter, Indali, were wading in ankle to shin-deep water off Montara State Beach with another family member when an undertow swept them underwater and out to sea.

Witnesses heard their cries for help and went in after them. Rescue crews responded to the beach at about 4:20 p.m. Up to 40 rescuers responded to the call for help.

The other family member used a boogie board to help keep the mom and daughter afloat but another wave came in and hit all three of them. The wave pushed the family member close enough to the shoreline for a rescuer to pull her to safety, the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office said.

Another witness saw all three of them struggling to make it to shore and went into the water to see if she could help. She put Indali onto the boogie board and told the others to hold onto it until they reached shore. But another wave came and knocked them all off the board. The good Samaritan grabbed young Indali but let go of her when they were close to shore, sure she would make it to the beach in the shallow surf, according to the sheriff's office.

But Indali didn't make it to shore. Her young body was found a quarter mile down the beach.

After the two were taken to Stanford Hospital in a separate rescue helicopters, the Coast Guard says it was notified by the San Mateo Coroner's Office that the mother and daughter did not survive.

While riptides can be hard to spot sometimes, Monday was not a calm day at the beach.

"The surf was up fairly good," Cal Fire Division Chief Richard Sampson said.

Montara State Beach is known for its steep beach break which, when there is a heavy swell, causes a heavy impact on the beach.  The beach also has a strong rip tide that can span 10-50 yards wide and go out to sea for a half mile.

Romila and Indali Higgens were from Walnut Creek.

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