Kite surfer spells HELP in sand; prompts Santa Cruz rescue

A kite surfer was rescued on Sunday after he spelled out HELP in the sand with rocks, which triggered a successful CalFire helicopter extraction. 

The state fire agency shared video of the rescue on social media, including the rock formation that saved the kite surfer's life off a beach south of Davenport in Santa Cruz County.

CalFire officials said the beach is somewhat remote and access is difficult. Plus, they said, the tide was coming in. 

A pilot in a private helicopter, in the late afternoon, saw the SOS plea, who then alerted Cal Fire, Santa Cruz Fire and California state parks crews.

"We were fairly quick to get the aircraft rigged up for the rescue, and flew out to the coast there in davenport," said Capt. Sean Ketchum of the Cal Fire Alma Helittack Base in Los Gatos.

CalFire's video showed that the chopper crew used a long line to pull the surfer from the beach to the cliffside above.

It's not clear how long the unidentified kite surfer was stranded on the beach before he was rescued.


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The kite surfer didn't need any medical attention, Cal Fire said, he just needed to be hoisted off the secluded beach. 

People familiar with the area said high winds and rough surf likely caused the man to become stranded.

"It can get pretty gnarly and the wind can come up, especially in the afternoons and that’s when a lot of kite surfers and windsurfers come out here," said Dan, a surfer who didn't want to give his last name. "Sometimes they go to far and get down the beach, and it can be pretty steep cliffs."

Cal Fire officials said a sea rescue was also considered, but the conditions warranted the use of the fire agency's new Blackhawk helicopter to pluck the stranded surfer from the beach.

"This new Blackhawk helicopter is very powerful and really handled the wind great and didn’t affect any of our operations at all as far as the rescue goes," Ketchum said.

The surfer has not been seen since the rescue, and the eagle-eyed pilot who saw the sign for help left before the rescuers could say thank you.

Officials said this is a reminder, as beach season moves into full swing, to always check conditions before going into the water.