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Wave sweeps search and rescue airman off beach

An airman who served for an elite search and rescue team has been lost at sea after being swept away by a wave at a Monterey County beach.

U.S. Coast Guard officials say the airman disappeared into the ocean after being dragged away by the wave at Garrapata State Park — a beach preserve at the northern end of Big Sur known for its sandy beaches, spectacular views but also a treacherous surf — around 9:30 a.m. Tuesday.

The name of the airman has not been released, but Coast Guard officials say he was a member of the Air National Guard 129th Rescue Wing stationed at Moffett Field in Mountain View.  The airman was off duty at the time.

The Coast Guard sent a 47-foot motor life boat and a helicopter rescue crew to search for the missing airman.  State park rangers, lifeguards, Monterey County Sheriff’s deputies and Cal Fire crews also took part in the search.

But after darkness fell, the Coast Guard announced it was ending search efforts.

Capt. Greg Stump, commander, Coast Guard Sector San Francisco, said in a statement:

“The decision to suspend a search and rescue case is one of the most difficult decisions to make.  I want to extend my sincere condolences to the family, friends and California Air National Guard. After conducting an extensive search for seven hours with our partner agencies, we made the challenging decision to suspend the active search.”

The park where the airman disappeared has a beach that stretches for about two miles, with a notoriously rough surf.

The website California’s Best Beaches describes the beach as:

“A sandy beach, but extremely hazardous surf makes it far too dangerous even for wading.”

The rescue wing the airman was assigned to conducts search and rescue missions throughout the world.  In May of last year, according to the unit’s website, it performed its 1,000th life-saving rescue since 1975.  In that benchmark rescue, members of the wing saved the life of an Afghan National policeman who was critically injured after being shot.

The wing’s members also took part in the dramatic rescue of a family of two adults and two young children who were in danger of perishing at sea when their sailboat became disabled about 900 miles off the coast of Mexico earlier this year.

The rescue unit has also hoisted people out of the Russian River, recovered injured climbers from the top of Mount Shasta and airlifted to safety sick and injured people from boats and ships.

John Marshall is an SFBay editor and reporter, producer and writer for San Francisco’s KGO Radio.  Follow him on Twitter @breakingnewsman.

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