San Diego Fire-Rescue lifeguards say they were called to one of the most unusual rescues of their careers Friday when a 26-foot-long fishing boat with two men aboard became wedged inside a cave near Sunset Cliffs.
"It looked like something out of a movie. It didn’t even look real," said SDFD Lifeguard Sgt. Gavin McBride, one of the lifeguards who responded to the men's mayday call just before 1 a.m. on Friday.
The cave along Sunset Cliffs, near the tip of the Point Loma Peninsula, had shallow waters and small entrance so a rescue vessel could not fit inside. Instead, lifeguards jumped into the water and swam until they saw a light in the distance.
What they saw next left them stunned.
"Just a huge boat and it wasn’t supposed to be in the cave," Lifeguard Paul Nowakowsi said.
The nearly two-story-long boat was wedged into an inlet in the far back and to the left of the cave.
"If you can imagine driving home from work and closing your eyes and somehow ending up in your garage, that’s basically what we saw when we got on scene," McBride said.
The 66- and 19-year-old men were sitting on the vessel and were not in harm's way, according to Stropky. They appeared to be in shock but were not panicking.
They told lifeguards they were returning from a fishing trip near Coronado Island -- with their boat in auto-pilot mode, when they woke up to waves pushing their vessel deeper into the cavity, SDFD Lifeguards Lt. Rich Stropky said.
Crews helped the two men off the boat and swam them out of the cave, where a boat was waiting for them just offshore, Stropky said.
Neither men was injured. One person was checked by medics but was not transported to the hospital.
The boat remained in the cave Friday afternoon. Lifeguards requested a salvage company, TowBoat U.S., to extract the vessel from the cave. The company would come up with a plan for the "boat's safe removal" but there was no time estimate.
Three divers from TowBoat U.S. went in to look at the boat and unanimously said the boat could not be rescued Saturday because Hurricane Juliette is raising the water level in the cave.
Robert Butler from TowBoat U.S. said they will try again Sunday morning.
McBride said it was the first time in his 20 years as a lifeguard he has seen something like this.
"I’m not a statistician, but I would say [the odds are] a million to one. It was a very unusual experience."
In all, about a half-dozen agencies helped with the rescue, including the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, San Diego Fire-Rescue, and military police from nearby Naval Base Point Loma.