The Junior Lifeguard training program in Huntington Beach will not conduct training Wednesday following the death of an 11-year-old girl killed when a lifeguard boat struck her during a training session in the ocean off the city's shores.
Allysa Squirrell of Laguna Hills died at UC Irvine Medical Center in Orange about 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, according to Orange County Sheriff's Department spokesman Jim Amormino.
An autopsy likely will be performed sometime Wednesday, Amormino said.
"We are all deeply saddened by the loss of one of our junior lifeguards," Huntington Beach Mayor Keith Bohr said. "Our hearts and prayers go out to the family of Allysa in this time of tragedy."
Lt. Greg Crowe was the instructor driving the boat at the time of the accident, a 32-year veteran with the Huntington Beach Marine Safety Division.
"He's been a training officer and worked with the junior lifeguard program for more than 20 years," says City Spokeswoman Laurie Payne, "he's licensed with the U.S. Coast Guard and has been honored with a public safety Medal of Valor. He is currently on leave from the department."
"He's one of the most valuable people we have," says Marine Safety Chief Kyle Lindo, "this tragedy has taken many victims. He's devastated."
The junior lifeguard program was halfway through its eight-week training, in which participants were in the water daily, Payne said. This was the first injury accident since the program began in 1964, she added.
Amormino said training would be suspended today, and counselors would be available for the children and staff who may have witnessed the accident.
The girl died just hours after lifeguards at Pacific Coast Highway and First Street headquarters were sent to the site of the accident near the Huntington Beach Pier just before 3 p.m. Tuesday, Payne said.
Authorities initially reported that the girl suffered severe cuts to her lower body caused by the boat's propeller, but they later backed away from that statement, saying the accident was still being investigating.
"Until we conduct an investigation, I'm not sure" what caused the injuries, Amormino said. "Let the investigation take its course."
The Sheriff's Department is heading the investigation, according to the Orange County Register. Sheriff's investigators planned to examine the boat, which was towed to land following the accident, the newspaper reported.
Payne said Allysa was in a group 20-25 junior lifeguards, ages 11 and 12, practicing an exercise known as a "speed drop," which helps teach lifeguards how to reach swimmers in distress quickly.
After the group was dropped in the water, the driver of the lifeguard boat, which was within the surf line, circled around to pick up the junior lifeguards and struck the girl, Payne said.
Amormino said the 53-year-old marine safety officer driving the boat was distraught over what happened.
"He is extremely devastated," Amormino said, "A second instructor was aboard the boat and a third instructor was in the water at the time of the accident,"
"I'm sure the operator of that boat, who is very, very experienced, did not see the young girl," Amormino said, adding that the water was choppy at the time.