Sunday July 6th 2014 was the final day of an eventful 4th of July weekend along the coast of Newport Beach, California. Lifeguards were busy throughout the week protecting crowds on the shore from a large swell which brought rough conditions and waves that measured in excess of 12 feet. Amongst the lifeguards patrolling the beach was a 15-year veteran and decorated lifeguard named Ben Carlson. While stationed as a deckhand on the rescue boat Sea Watch II, Ben had been in and out of the ocean all weekend rescuing distressed swimmers from the dangerous swells. This was a job that Ben loved as he was a truly skilled waterman with a passion to keep beach goers safe.
As the day moved closer to sunset, Ben was called upon for one final rescue. The Sea Watch II circled into an area just south of the Newport Pier where a swimmer was struggling in churning waters. Without hesitation, Ben dove from the back of the boat and swam toward the man. Once he reached the swimmer, Ben gave the man his buoy, which would ultimately prove to be lifesaving as the ocean soon turned. The next crashing wave was devastating. It hit with unusual strength and frightfully sent both men disappearing from sight. A few moments passed until the swimmer was spotted above surface, in shock, but safely clinging to the buoy that Ben had provided. Backup lifeguards were quickly on the scene to assist the man to safety but tragically Ben was nowhere to be found.
As you can imagine, a search for Ben immediately filled the ocean. A team of over 50 individuals from multiple agencies combed the coastline in the water, on the beach and from the air for over 3 hours until they found their fallen colleague just before sundown. The untimely drowning of our 32 year-old lifeguard hero, Ben Carlson, was the first death in the line of duty in the 100-year history of the Newport Beach Lifeguard Department's existence.
Ben Carlson is a True American Hero. His story of bravery and selfless sacrifice immediately sent a heartbreaking current that ripped throughout Southern California and across the United States. His bravery has since earned him 4 Medals of Valor, a letter from the President, and a dedication from the City of Newport Beach to rename Lifeguard Headquarters in Ben's honor coming March 2015.
In the aftermath of Ben's tragic passing a group of family, friends and fellow lifeguards came together to form the Ben Carlson Memorial and Scholarship Foundation. This organization is committed to honoring Ben's legacy through the execution of positive, meaningful works in his memory. The goals of the BCMSF are to annually provide substantial student scholarships to well-deserving candidates, to promote ocean water safety and most immediately we hope to meet our fundraising goals to financially secure the installation of the Ben Carlson Memorial Statue. A 9 foot tall statue has been beautifully designed, and its creation will not only honor Ben's heroism, but it will also be a symbol of respect for hero lifeguards everywhere. Additionally we feel that the statue will serve as a great opportunity to help educate and promote ocean water safety, which is one of our primary objectives.
The Carlson family and the BCMSF Board of Advisors thank you for your continuous thoughts, prayers and support. We will forever love and miss you, Ben!
If you are interested in supporting Ben's legacy through the Ben Carlson Memorial & Scholarship Foundation please donate now.
BCMSF is a DBA of the Newport Beach Junior Lifeguard Foundation, a tax exempt 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.