2 dead as violent storm hits California's Catalina Island

Thirty to 40 people who saw a harbor patrolman swept off a boat during a storm on California's Catalina Island were unable to save him, a witness said.

By Frances Burns

AVALON, Calif., Dec. 31 (UPI) -- A harbor patrolman was killed as he tried to rescue boats during a violent windstorm that lashed Catalina Island off Southern California.

The body of another man was found floating in the harbor, police said. Both deaths were believed to be related to the storm that hit the Los Angeles area Tuesday.


John Etheridge, a resident of Fountain Valley, Calif., who also owns property on Catalina, described the storm as the most severe he has seen on the island. He said 30 to 40 people tried to come to the patrolman's aid after he was swept from a dive vessel, King Neptune.

"It was the most horrible thing I've ever seen," Etheridge told KABC-TV.

Ed Winter, assistant chief of the Los Angeles County coroner's department, said the patrolman was working to secure boats in Avalon Harbor late Tuesday when he was killed.

"It appears that it was weather-related," Winter said. "There were boats that had broken loose from their moorings. He evidently got swept overboard and was pinned between the boat and rocks."

Officials had not released the names of either man by noon Wednesday. The body of the patrolman was escorted to a helicopter by emergency vehicles.


Winter said the second man died in a "water-related incident."

Tom Quinn, a local resident, told KTLA-TV the patrolman was 27 and a "well-loved" man. He described the other victim as an experienced sailor.

"All of a sudden, the wind just came," Quinn said as he sat in a harborfront bar Wednesday. "Mayhem was happening out here. ... Guys were dying."

The storm also left scores of motorists stranded on roads in the San Bernardino Mountains near Los Angeles, where a foot of snow fell at high elevations, and whipped the entire area with high wind.

The island, 22 miles southwest of Los Angeles, is a popular resort for sailing enthusiasts. Movie star Natalie Wood drowned in mysterious circumstances in 1981 while she and her husband, Robert Wagner, were anchored off Two Harbors on their yacht, Splendour.

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