San Diego lifeguards launched a mass rescue at La Jolla Cove Tuesday, pulling nearly two dozen high school students from the water who were trying to swim from the cove to the shore, officials confirmed.
The mass rescue began around 1 p.m. in waters off La Jolla Shores beach, near Kellogg Park.
San Diego Fire-Rescue Department (SDFD) spokesman Lee Swanson told NBC 7 that a large group students from the Rancho Verde High School swim team in Moreno Valley were swimming near La Jolla Cove.
“We believe that a couple of them started to panic, which triggered other ones to get a little bit scared,” said Sgt. Ed Harris with San Diego Lifeguards.
In total, between 18 and 22 students had to be rescued from La Jolla Cove and La Jolla Shores, SDFD officials said.
One student was unconscious and was taken to a local hospital. The student had swallowed some water and was showing the beginning stages of hypothermia, said Marine Safety Lt. John Sandmeyer.
Harris said 64 high school swimmers and three coaches were out swimming in the area. The group, Harris said, was about a half-mile out from the shore when the large number of swimmers had to be rescued.
Once panic set in, “it just snowballed into a mass rescue, so we put boards in the water, we put [jet]skis in the water, we put lifeguards in and boats, and just everyone,” Harris said.
Harris said the swimmers had gone out into the water against the advice of lifeguards.
At around 1:45 p.m., many of the student swimmers were gathered at La Jolla Shores, where officials were conducting a head count of the group. On land, many of the minors were receiving medical attention from lifeguards.
Sandmeyer soon confirmed all of the swimmers were accounted for. Officials said all of the students were expected to be okay. Many of the teens were visible shaken from the ordeal.
"Fortunately, it's a good learning experience," Sandmeyer said.
Harris told NBC 7 the water was about 59 degrees Wednesday, with waves between two and four feet at the time of the rescue. It was windy at the beach, he said.
The National Weather Service (NWS) had issued a high wind advisory through 3 a.m. Wednesday, but for San Diego County deserts.
Nina Esplin witnessed the mass rescue. She told NBC 7 she saw a lifeguard bring a young swimmer to shore using a waverunner.
Esplin said she also saw a man who appeared to be scuba diving rescued from the water.
“They both looked like they were okay when they got to shore,” she explained.
Firmen Sowers also witnessed the commotion at the Cove.
“Just a bunch of kids coming out the water – it looked like a swim team,” Sowers told NBC 7. “They looked like they were all freezing, making their way out.”
Rancho Verde High School, part of Moreno Valley's Val Verde Unified School District, is located about 88 miles north of La Jolla.
A message posted to the Rancho Verde Athletics Twitter feed earlier Tuesday showed members of the school's swim team posing for a photograph at UC San Diego, which is about 12 miles from La Jolla Cove.
Chris Wynn, director of Security with the Val Verde Unified School District, told NBC 4 in Los Angeles that the student swimmers from Rancho Verde High School were in La Jolla for beach swim training.
Wynn said the students met with a lifeguard and were briefed on ocean swimming before going out on their swim. While in the water, Wynn said one of the student swimmers had some type of panic attack.
While rescuing that student, Wynn said lifeguards began pulling other swimmers from the group to shore as well, just to escort them in safely.
Wynn said only the one student was transported to a hospital as a precaution. The other swimmers were fine, Wynn said, but some were cold from the chilly water temperatures.
He said the ages of the students are unknown, as if the skill level of the swim team. The district, Wynn said, is not expecting further updates on the incident as of 4 p.m. Tuesday.
No further details were released. Watch NBC 7 News at 4 p.m. for updates from the scene.