It took 15 minutes to dig him out of the heavy sand that began to fill his lungs.
In that time, no oxygen was going to the brain of 17-year-old Ryan Buchanan of Orinda, a suburb in the Bay Area.
Somehow, he survived.
A year and a half after that tragic accident near Santa Cruz, the now-18-year-old Ryan is still defying the odds.
His father, Bret Buchanan, said those who fall into the same persistent vegetative state that his son has been living in usually don’t make it to a full year.
Not only has Ryan beat the odds, Buchanan said his son has repeatedly fought off potentially life-ending sicknesses.
The most recent return to the hospital was just two weeks ago, when doctors feared he had sepsis. The time before that was pneumonia.
"Any of those things that could potentially end his life. He’s come back, and has actually come back stronger," Buchanan said.
Ryan has shown such strength that it’s left his family with full faith that he will one day walk again.
He cannot see, speak or move by himself, but Buchanan explained there’s been hopeful progress with Ryan’s movement.
"Now he actually has some movement, which someone in persistent vegetative state is not supposed to have," Buchanan said.
"I touched his foot the other day - and it’s a regular occurrence now – he actually gets a little ticklish! To be able to tickle his feet now and watch him move is like… whoa!"
Ryan’s grandparents visit an average of four times a week, speaking to him and giving him physical therapy.
His friends have done the same. In fact, four of those friends are now studying to become physical therapists.
Motivated by his progress and their steadfast love, Ryan’s family and friends have kicked off "Project Ryan’s Wing."
For a month now, construction crews have been building an addition to the house that will feature Ryan’s new room, complete with handicap-capable showers and an elevator. Buchanan added there will be a special air condition filtration system to purify the air, along with tubing that in the walls for oxygen.
The goal is to bring Ryan closer to the family and away from the former-master bedroom where he now spends almost all of his time, sequestered along with his nurses, separated from the rest of the house by a long, narrow hallway.
The project is set to be finished in just a couple of months, barring poor weather. In the meantime, Buchanan described his time with his son as invaluable.
"I communicated with him more than I ever did before. Not just talking to him out loud, but knowing intricately what he needs," Buchanan said.
In the end, the family is living on faith. Buchanan said this experience has set-in-stone his existence and purpose.
“To watch over my kids,” he said, before an emotional pause. “Watch over my family. Live in the moment and love the people that are around you, ‘cause you never know when God’s going to take them.”
The family is holding a Christmas Concert benefit next Saturday, Dec. 15 at their church, the Creekside Community Church in Alamo.
For more information or to donate, visit www.RyanBuchanan.org.