Spartan Lifeguard Rescues Pilot on California Coast

by | Aug 31, 2022 | Spartan Spotlight

Dane Morin

SRAC lifeguard Dane Morin, ’25 Business Administration, rescued the pilot of a passenger plane when he crashed into the Pacific in July. Photo courtesy of Dane Morin.

Dane Morin, ’25 Business Administration, is no stranger to water safety. A certified lifeguard with the city of Capitola, Morin was supervising a junior lifeguard competition on July 22 when he witnessed a small passenger plane crash into the ocean about 200 yards off the coast of Huntington State Beach. Within seconds, his years of training kicked in. Morin sprinted across the sand with his fins and rescue tube — a red towline with a safety belt — toward the pilot, who managed to escape the cockpit and was treading water.

“The ocean conditions are a lot different [in Southern California] than they are in Northern California,” Morin remembered. “It’s warmer water, but there were a lot of rip currents dragging me around, and a different shore break. I was trying to figure out the best entry into the water. How was I going to efficiently get out there to possibly save this person’s life?”

The broken vessel introduced another variable to the rescue operation: gasoline quickly emptied its tank into the water. Morin reached the pilot, assessed his condition and shielded the man from breaking waves while keeping both their heads as far from the spillage as possible.

By the time they reached shore, a crew of EMTs, police officers and firefighters were waiting to tend to the pilot. Dazed and in shock, Morin was relieved to see the man survive.

“The city is very proud of Dane’s quick thought and actions, especially in an area that wasn’t our beach,” said Nikki Bryant, Capitola recreation division manager, who oversees the junior lifeguard program.

“This was an above and beyond situation, where he was one of over 100 lifeguards, highly qualified individuals, on the beach. Speed is the biggest factor in an individual’s survival on the beach, and Dane was the quickest. We are very proud to say that an individual within the city showed this level of character and professionalism to make a difference in someone’s life. He is a model to all of our junior guards.”

Dane Morin

Though Morin is studying marketing with hopes of a career in business, lifeguarding and water safety remain important to him as a form of community service. Photo courtesy of Dane Morin.

Capitola Mayor Sam Storey recognized Morin’s service at a July 28 meeting, according to the Santa Cruz Sentinel.

“Most of us would probably tend to freeze under that circumstance, but I think you demonstrated such a presence of mind and courage to know what to do in that situation,” said Storey. “I commend you on that. And I think it’s a reminder to all of us that sometimes life throws curveballs at us. We always need to be alert, always need to be prepared.”

This fall, Morin starts his second year as a lifeguard at San José State’s Student Recreation and Aquatic Center.

“The water is my second home,” he said. “I’ve been active with the junior lifeguard program since I was six years old. My instructors were my heroes. So when I came of age and applied to be a lifeguard, it felt really, really rewarding to give back the knowledge that I received so generously.”

Watch Morin on KPIX News.