UPDATE Posted at 6 p.m. Dec. 5
We now know how a 31-year old Corvallis doctor died at Devils Punchbowl on Saturday, Dec. 1.
Oregon State Police tell The News Guard that Toren Stearns died from drowning following a surfing accident at Devils Punchbowl.
Previous News Guard coverage
NEW DETAILS: Surfing death prompts warning
First responders are warning people about the danger of a popular Central Coast surfing area between Depoe Bay and Newport.
The warning about the conditions follows the death of a surfer on Saturday, Dec. 1, at Devils Punchbowl State Natural Area. Authorities said 31-year-old Toren Stearns, a Corvallis doctor, died following a surfing accident at Devils Punchbowl.
According to a reports from Oregon State Police and the U.S. Coast Guard, 911 received a report at about 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 1, that a surfer had become separated from his surfboard and was trying to swim to shore but was continually battered by heavy waves.
As a Depoe Bay Fire Department crew arrived on the scene at Devils Punchbowl they reported seeing the surfer floating on his back.
"I saw the surfer away from the board and he did not appear to be responding," Depoe Bay Fire Chief Bill Johnson said. "He was in the water and floating with the current."
A Coast Guard helicopter and two 47-foot motor lifeboat crews from Coast Guard Station Depoe Bay were sent to the scene. The aircrew arrived on scene at 4:14 p.m. and deployed a rescue swimmer, who had help from another surfer in transporting the surfer to shore.
The helicopter crew landed the aircraft on the beach. Crews identified the unconscious surfer as Stearns. He was transported to Samaritan Pacific Communities Hospital, where authorities said he was pronounced dead. Authorities had not released the specific cause of death as of Tuesday morning, Dec. 4.
Johnson said conditions at the time of the rescue were not favorable.
“The tide was incoming,” Johnson said. “The surf was fairly rough. It was not ideal surfing conditions.”
According to Wikipedia, Devils Punchbowl State Natural Area is a large bowl that is naturally carved in a rock headland, which is partially open to the Pacific Ocean. Waves enter the bowl and often violently churn, swirl and foam.
Johnson, said the surfing at Devils Punchbowl can be challenging and it can be dangerous.
“Because the way the currents go in and around and come in the south side,” he said. “The currents create that natural rip and if people aren’t familiar with the area they try to fight the rip and it tires them out. It is also fairly shallow and they can hit the bottom of the ocean and sustain injuries that way as well.”
While there have been a number of surf and cliff rescues at Devils Punchbowl over the years, Johnson said it is the first death he can recall.
“It is the first fatality we have had since I have been with Depoe Bay Fire in four and half years,” he said.
Johnson recommends to anyone that attempts to surf at Devils Punchbowl to be prepared for the danger.
“Number one, know the weather conditions and the tides and don’t surf alone” he said.