NEWPORT – George Bulawka, 48 was supposed to head home to Vancouver, B.C., Wednesday, but the weather on Oregon's central coast was so beautiful he couldn't bear to leave. So he hung around and went to the South Jetty on Yaquina Bay, hoping to find conditions nice enough to stroll to the end.
Instead, about 1 p.m., he ended up watching a tragedy unfold as a couple made that same walk.
"The waves were so high, they were crashing over the pole at the end of the pier," said Bulawka, a schoolteacher. "I kept watching. I just thought they would stop. They kept going."
And then they were gone.
The U.S. Coast Guard recovered the body of a woman about 1:15 p.m. The search for her companion continued into the late afternoon. No identifications had been released by Wednesday evening.
Skies were blue, the temperature was mild and the sun shining. But the seas were huge, tumbling high and white and measuring 18 to 20 feet, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.
Bulawka was resting on the beach near the jetty when a wave came in and soaked him. He stood and that's when he saw them. "I noticed those people had parked their bikes and were walking out to the pier," said Bulawka.
Not long after, Larry Prantl, of Waldport, passed the couple on the jetty.
"I was coming back," said Prantl. "I saw some fairly big stuff breaking. I wasn't in any danger, but I could see if you were out farther, it was going to be really, really dangerous. I passed them a third of the way where the east end of the jetty would start. I said hi to the guy. The gal smiled at me, " said Prantl, who estimated the couple were in their 20s. " I kept walking back, and I looked back and I saw they still kept walking."
Bulawka watched, too. Even as they started getting wet and catching the spray from waves, the two continued on.
"It looked like they had walked rocks before," Bulawka said. "They were in good shape. They seemed to be a fit couple."
He watched them reach the end of the jetty, and by then assumed there must be a safe place to take shelter that he just couldn't see.
"I have pretty good eyesight, and I saw a taller person, I assumed to be the man, holding on to the white pole. I could see another person crouched down behind him. I saw several waves coming over and he was still holding on, and the next wave they were gone."
Prantl asked a woman to call 9-1-1 and in a short time, the rescue-turned-recovery efforts were under way. Police recovered the body of the woman about 40 yards southwest of the jetty in the ocean.
Wednesday afternoon, the police cut the couple's bicycles from a log, retrieved a cell phone and other personal items and went about the grim business of learning who they were.
"I've lived here my whole life," said Oregon State Police Senior Trooper Dave Peterson. "This happens all the time. I don't know if they think those waves are just little sprinkles or what."
Wednesday evening, Bulawka was in his hotel room, still trying to make of sense of what he witnessed.
"I am in shock, I guess," said Bulawka, his voice wavering. "Even at the end of the day, I wanted to go to the jetty; the waves had gone way down. But I wouldn't do that now that I saw how quick the waves come back up. It wasn't just one rogue wave; they just kept coming and coming and coming."
Well, indeed, waves may be " just kept coming and coming and coming" and all are seemingly harmless splashes. May be that's what the couple felt. But it all takes is that one big one in a fraction of a brief moment and all are too late after that! We'll never know if that big one will ever come, when, how, or where. But it will come, somewhere, some time, for certain! Danger is everywhere, not just around the corner. Stay safe by all means! Don't take any chance. What can be more important than your own safety?