County honors lifeguards who saved five adults and a baby from a burning boat outside Marina del Rey harbor

By Gary Walker

Ocean Lifeguard Specialist John Van Duinwyk and Lifeguard Capt. Andrew Greger received special honors from L.A. County Supervisor Don Knabe for saving six people, including a baby, from a burning boat outside the marina Photo by Diandra Jay

Ocean Lifeguard Specialist John Van Duinwyk and Lifeguard Capt. Andrew Greger received special honors from L.A. County Supervisor Don Knabe for saving six people, including a baby, from a burning boat outside the marina
Photo by Diandra Jay

Lifeguards know they may be called upon to save a life at any moment.

Two veteran local lifeguards received special honors last week from the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors for saving a life that had only just begun.

L.A. County Lifeguard Capt. Andrew Greger and Ocean Lifeguard Specialist John Van Duinwyk were patrolling the coastline between Marina del Rey and Santa Monica in their rescue boat in September when they noticed a plume of smoke coming from a 40-foot yacht outside the marina.

They raced to the yacht and the first thing they saw was two people on standup paddle boards that they had thrown into the water in an attempt to escape the fire, which was rapidly expanding to the rest of the yacht, Greger said.

“We saw three more people standing at the bow of the yacht, and one of them was a woman holding a baby,” recalled Greger, a 28-year veteran. “When we pulled up she ended up falling into the water, where she and the baby went under for a few seconds.”

Van Duinwyk quickly dove into the water and took the baby from the mother’s outstretched arms.

“I’m the lifeguard. I’ve got your baby,” Van Duinwyk recalls calling out to the mother.

The five people and the baby, which the lifeguard later learned was a four-month-old girl, were transported to the Marina del Rey Sheriff’s Station boat dock and taken to a local hospital for evaluation.

“They didn’t seem like they were hurt, but we wanted to make sure that everyone — including the baby — was OK,” Greger said.

Lifeguard Assistant Division Chief Fernando Boiteux said the quick action by Greger and Van Duinwyk likely saved the lives of all six people.

“They recognized that the situation changed very quickly from trying to extinguish a fire to a rescue,” Boiteux said.

Once everyone was safe on the rescue boat, Greger and Van Duinwyk helped contain the fire, which had started in the engine room, until a Los Angeles County Fire Department boat arrived to extinguish the blaze.

L.A. County Supervisor Don Knabe, who represents Marina del Rey, presented an honorary scroll to both men during the board’s March 22 meeting.

The recognition was for “courage and dedication,” Knabe said during the presentation.

Greger, who regular patrols the coast of Santa Monica, Venice and the marina, was humble about the recognition.

“Things worked out well. I’m sure that anyone who had been on duty that day would have done the same thing,” he said.

Boiteux said lifeguards know that they could be involved in a rescue every day, but some situations are definitely different than others.

“We often don’t get the chance to rescue four-month-old babies,” he said.

gary@argonautnews.com