Girl drowns at McClures on Thanksgiving

12/02/2020

A 4-year-old girl from Pinole drowned on Thanksgiving after a wave pulled her into the surf at McClures Beach, where she had been walking with her family. Her father suffered hypothermia after spending half an hour in the water trying to rescue her.

“The fall and winter swells are not to be underestimated, and the ocean is not to be underestimated,” said Julian Dupont, a park service ranger and E.M.T. who was the first to respond last Thursday. “When the water is that cold, we need people to visit responsibly and watch children, who may be drawn to the water. In this case, perhaps nothing could’ve changed the outcome. This was a tragedy.” 

An emergency call placed from the beach parking lot at 4 p.m. brought Mr. Dupont, Marin County Fire paramedics and U.S. Coast Guard personnel to the scene. They found the girl, Katherine Huajun Xu, and her father on the beach. She was unconscious. 

After a revival effort on the sand, a helicopter transported her to the U.C.S.F. Benioff Children’s Hospital in Oakland, where she was pronounced dead. Another helicopter took her father to the Petaluma Regional Hospital, where he was treated for hypothermia.

Rangers drove the mother and another child to the hospital to join him. 

“McClures is certainly notorious,” Mr. Dupont said. “It’s a very exposed beach, unlike Drakes or Limantour that have a natural land shield that reduces wave size and intervals. As we all know, in the winter and the fall, we experience a high swell season—it’s certainly when the ocean is most angry.”

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration had issued a high surf advisory on Thursday, warning of a northwest swell causing large surf. “We made that decision based on the wave period and swell heights,” said Anna Schneider, a NOAA meteorologist. “A longer wave period usually increases the risk of sneaker waves, which are potentially deadly waves that will suddenly surge much further up the beach than expected. Water-related fatalities, including from sneaker waves, are probably our number-one weather-related fatality on the central California coast.”

The park service is conducting an investigation, though interviews with bystanders indicate that the death was nothing less than an accident, Mr. Dupont said. The family had been walking on the beach, not playing in the water, he added. 

The surf has taken other lives at McClures in the past, including a 52-year-old woman in 2004 and a 72-year-old fisherman in 2012. Many other lives have been claimed on the Great Beach, including an 8-year-old in 2001 who was pulled in by a wave at South Beach.