Calif. cop jumps in ocean, saves man from drowning

The man had fallen off a Jet Ski, police said


By David Hernandez
The San Diego Union-Tribune

NATIONAL CITY, Calif. — All National City police Cpl. Javier Cornejo saw was an arm. The rest of the man's body was underwater.

The man had fallen off a personal watercraft in San Diego Bay along the National City Marine Terminal earlier this week. A 911 caller said it looked like the man was drowning.

Cornejo jumped into the water and, with the help of other officers, rescued the man.

"I was just happy we helped out the guy and he didn't drown," the corporal said in an interview.

The 911 call came in about 2:15 p.m. Monday while Cornejo, a 15-year veteran of the Police Department, was patrolling the area near the city's waterfront. He was the first officer to find the man.

An employee of Pasha Automotive Services — a vehicle importer that operates the terminal — had thrown the man a rope, but he was struggling to hold on in choppy waters underneath a dock.

Cornejo knew he had to act quickly. He stripped off his duty belt, vest, shirt and boots — "It's the fastest thing I've ever done," he said Wednesday — then jumped in the water "without even thinking about it."

Cornejo swam a short distance to the man, whose life vest was slipping off. The man grabbed onto the corporal, unintentionally pulling him underwater in panic. Cornejo said he tried to calm him down.

Arriving officers tried to calm him down, too.

Cpl. Daniel Scanlon threw the men in the water a police dog leash, which Cornejo and the man grabbed onto while Scanlon and other officers on the dock — Ruben Lopez and Murry Estabrook — used the leash to keep Cornejo and the man afloat.

The man, Cornejo said, was fatigued.

"I could see fear in his eyes, but at the same time comfort with all of the officers being there," Cornejo said.

More help arrived soon after when an employee from a nearby watercraft rental company — who was alerted to the incident — pulled up on a Jet Ski. The employee and Cornejo tried to pull the man out from under the dock with a cord of sorts, but the man let go.

Harbor police officers Michael Sabbagh and Janel Seney arrived moments later on a boat. They pulled Cornejo and the man onto the vessel.

They docked a nearby boat launching ramp near Pepper Park, where medics assessed the man before taking him to a hospital for an evaluation. He was conscious and breathing.

Cornejo said the man thanked him and shook his hand before they parted ways.

In an interview Wednesday, Cornejo didn't take all of the credit for the rescue. "If it wasn't for everybody there, I think things would have been different," he said, highlighting the teamwork his fellow officers on both the National City and Harbor police departments.

"It sounds cliché, but we're there to help people," he said.

Walking away from the waterfront Monday, Cornejo's undershirt and pants were soaked. He drove home to shower before returning to duty.

(c)2020 The San Diego Union-Tribune

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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