Search for 2 missing Bay Area students who were swept away by waves

(photo courtesy Dan Coyro -- Santa Cruz Sentinel)

A search is underway today for two college students from the Bay Area who have been missing since Monday evening in the waters off Bonny Doon State Beach in Santa Cruz County, authorities said.

The missing people, a 20-year-old Palo Alto woman and a 25-year-old man from the San Jose area, are students at the University of California at Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz County sheriff's Sgt. Roy Morales said.

Firefighters responded to a cliff rescue at the southern end of the beach around 5 p.m. Monday, Cal Fire spokeswoman Colleen Baxter said.  Five UCSC students went down to the beach and three of them headed
to a rock outcropping, where a wave swept them out into the ocean, Baxter said.

One of the three students was able to find their way back to shore, but the other two have not been found as of this afternoon, according to Baxter.

Of the three people left on the shore, one of them climbed off the beach with a rope, but two others became stuck there. Santa Cruz firefighters also assisted by setting up a rope system and helping the two people get off the beach, fire Division Chief Jason Hadjuk said.

The two rescued students declined medical treatment and were released at the scene, Hadjuk said.

There were high tides Monday evening, with waves between 10 to 15 feet, Hadjuk said.

Large surf is expected in the waters for the next two weeks and anyone who plans to watch the waves is advised to give themselves more space away from the edge of a cliff, Hadjuk said.

Santa Cruz County fire and state Department of Parks and Recreation personnel also responded to the incident, Baxter said.  Firefighters called on the U.S. Coast Guard to search for the two missing people, Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class Adam Stanton said.

The Coast Guard sent its Tern Cutter and a motor boat to the scene, where crews faced "extremely low visibility" into the night, Stanton said.

A helicopter crew was also deployed and used infrared camera that saw two images in the water near a cave, according to Stanton.  The crew needed to refuel the helicopter and when they returned rapelled down to the cave but were unable to find anything, Stanton said. The cutter remained on the water overnight and was called out to work another case around 1 p.m. today, according to Stanton.

A helicopter was sent out this morning around 7 a.m. but is facing difficulty getting back in the air today due to mechanical issues, Stanton said.