SANTA CRUZ (CBS SF) — A massive swell, kicked up by storms out in the Pacific Ocean, capsized several small sailboats ‘like dominoes’ at the mouth of the Santa Cruz Harbor Sunday afternoon, forcing marine rescue units and local surfers to pull 12 children who were taking part in a sail school from the turbulent, frigid waters.

While a tragedy was avoided in Santa Cruz that wasn’t the case elsewhere along the coast. A search was underway for a woman swept out to sea at Pescadero State Beach and a San Jose man in his 30s was missing after being swept from the bluffs into the ocean in the Marin Headlands area off Point Bonita.

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Despite a high surf warning of waves ranging as high as 25 feet or more along the coast, a Santa Cruz sail school was in session at the mouth of the harbor when the large wave struck.

“Sail school was coming in and the white water just tumbled them and they were just like dominoes flying through the water,” said Anna Ritter, who watched the boats capsize and called 911 for help. “And five little kids were saved by some great surfers.”

Santa Cruz County Fire Battalion Chief Daniel Kline said the calls reporting the capsized boats and people in the water came in at 4:33 p.m.

Fortunately, officials had posted additional patrols along the waterfront and had two waterski units in the water because of the large swell so they were able to quickly respond.

“With the high swell advisories that we had upstaffed a bit,” he said. “When the call came in today, we had 2 skis in the water already.”

Rescue teams and surfers worked quickly, pulling the children out of the 50-plus degree water.

“No injuries,” Klein said. “Except for some wet, cold kids that needed to be handed back to their parents.”

When asked about the size of waves, the veteran Santa Cruz firefighter said — “This is the biggest swell I have seen in a while.”

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Meanwhile, just north of Santa Cruz at Pescadero State Beach along the San Mateo County coastline, a search was underway for a woman who was swept out to sea by a massive wave.

 

Authorities said she and her husband had been searching for mussels on the rocks along the shoreline when they were knocked into the waters by a massive wave. A Good Samaritan was able to pull the husband from the waters, but the woman was pulled out to sea.

According to a post by Cal Fire San Mateo Santa Cruz Unit Twitter account, the man was rushed to the hospital.  The Cal Fire Unit’s helicopter provided air support during the search for the woman who was still missing.

The San Jose man was swept from the bluffs into the ocean in the Marin Headlands area off Point Bonita, Golden Gate National Park Service reported on Twitter.

The man and his friends were scrambling along the bluffs when the high surf caught him at about 2:30 p.m. Sunday.

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National Park Rangers, Southern Marin Fire Protection District, a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter and lifeboat, and a California Highway Patrol helicopter were all part of the search for the man, which was hampered by extreme ocean conditions. The search was suspended after nightfall, but will resume in the morning, Golden Gate NPS reported.