A young man out for an early morning walk got himself stuck on the sandy cliffs at La Jolla Cove Saturday. His careful rescue by San Diego firefighters was captured on camera by NBC 7.
The San Diego Fire-Rescue Department said crews began the rescue operation just before 7 a.m. at the cliffs along Coast Boulevard.
A man wearing sweatpants, a red hat and flip-flops had walked down the cliffs but couldn't get himself back up the tricky terrain. He got stuck about 25 feet down the cliffs, below a wooden staircase. He needed help.
When firefighters arrived at the scene, they rigged up a system so a firefighter could safely rappel down to the man. NBC 7’s cameras were rolling live as the rescue unfolded.
Just before 7:40 a.m., a firefighter was able to reach the man on the cliffs. The man did not appear to be hurt and seemed to be listening intently as the firefighter told him what to do.
The SDFD firefighter, Mike Lowe, put a helmet on the man and began securing a harness to his body. The plan was to hoist him from the cliffs.
"It was just a matter of setting up a rope system to go down to the cliff to retrieve him, hook him in and pull him back up," Lowe told NBC 7.
The pair began walking up the side of the cliffs; bits of sand could be seen crumbling with each step they took.
"One of the things we’re always worried about here is the victim actually falling off the cliff," Lowe explained. "So, we take measures to make sure that doesn’t happen."
Lowe said protocol for these types of rescues calls for clipping the victim into the SDFD's rope system as soon as a firefighter is able to reach the victim.
"So, if he does lose his footing, he’s not going anywhere," Lowe added.
As firefighters pressed on with the rescue, a small crowd of passersby formed along the ridge, watching every move.
San Diego resident Jennifer Smith witnessed the ordeal. She visits the cove often on the weekend to walk, watch the sunrise and photograph wildlife, but she had never seen anything quite like this.
Smith told NBC 7 she spotted the man on the cliffs and pulled out her camera lens to get a better look.
"The guy was just sitting there. He didn’t look like he was in distress; he looked like he was embarrassed at his situation," she said.
About seven minutes later, the firefighter and the man had reached the ridge and were back on firm land.
The man could be seen speaking with firefighters and San Diego police officers, pointing at the cliffs and explaining how he had gotten himself into that precarious position.
SDFD officials told NBC 7 this case is an example of why people exploring La Jolla Cove and other parts of San Diego should always walk on marked trails.