Lifeguards warn coastal watchers of the danger of cliffs collapsing

CBS 8 works for you and conveys this life-saving message as summer approaches.

Summer in San Diego will be here before you know what it means your family will most likely head to the beach. Lifeguards warn the public that one of the biggest dangers on the beach is not the water, but the cliffs behind you.

CBS 8 reporters are always working for you and in this garbage area, I am sending a life-saving message from Moonlight Beach.

The California Surfing Life Saving Association is a nonprofit organization designed to promote awareness of coastal safety. I attended one of the largest lifeguard training events in Southern California, where cliff collapse is a major concern.

Sergeant Nick Skogins from the Fire Department and Marine Corps of Ensignites saw cliffs that had not moved for years suddenly fall. Every day, Sergeant Skogins and his lifeguard friends see families sitting too close to the cliffs. “We see it quite often, if not almost every day event,” said Sergeant Skogins. “It can happen very quickly, like I said it’s unexpected and it can happen in less than a second.”

Families coming to the beach should choose a safe place. Lifeguards say any cliff is dangerous, but when you see what they call a “cut” or “hang” it is not a safe place for families to sit.

Where to sunbathe becomes even more complicated during high tide when there is not much sand to sit on. Lifeguards say the general rule of thumb is to look at the height of the cliff, imagine a third of it, and then move away at least from the cliff.

Lifeguards are desperate to share this information with beach watchers. We met mom, dad and their 2 year old daughter sitting too close to the cliffs. I approached them and said, “We’re doing a public safety story. Where are you sitting now, do you think you’re safe?” Jennifer Soniga and Feliciano Garcia told me, “Not quite. I remember, it was two years ago, there was a report, it was down there, right? A cliff did indeed fall on someone.”

In 2019, a deadly cliff collapse killed three family members who enjoyed a day at the beach at Grandview Beach in Encinites. Jennifer and Feliciano say this is the first time they’re heard of a safe tanning distance that is a third of the height of the cliff behind them. “I’ve been coming to this beach since I was a kid, when I was five, so yeah, first time I hear about it,” Jennifer said. In the future they sat farther from the cliffs. “Yeah, sure,” Jennifer said.

Right down the beach, we found another family sitting intentionally near a large retaining wall instead of the cliffs. “Yeah, I’m a marine biologist, so that’s my background,” Heather Turner said. “I love my kids and I want to take care of them.”

Encinitas spent months preparing for one of the largest lifeguard trainings in Southern California. “We have Los Angeles County rescuers, firefighters and lifeguards from Newport Beach, Huntington Beach, Coronado, San Diego and others,” said Sergeant Skogins. A total of ten agencies are preparing to respond to the cliff collapse. The rescuers asked me to play a victim in their exercise. “We have back pain,” said one lifeguard as I was loaded onto a chimney. “Three, two one,” the rescuers said in unison as they loaded me onto a lifeguard truck. With LifeFlight in bound, they practice as if every second counts; Knowing that sometime soon this will happen.

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“Jeff we’re going to load you on our closet, I want you to keep your eyes closed until we put you in, okay?” Said the first respondent from Reach Air Medical Services.

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Together, lifeguards and CBS 8 hope this story can save lives and help San Diego stay safe at the beach.

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