PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Tragedy struck along the Oregon coast as an 18-year-old student from the Beaverton School District disappeared into the Pacific Ocean while swimming near Cannon Beach on Friday afternoon.

Just before 4 p.m. Cannon Beach Fire and Seaside Fire’s Surf and Rescue Team rushed to an area just south of Tolovana Beach Wayside after a group of 4 students — all 18-year-old males, the US Coast Guard said — were lost from sight.

Two students were able to get out of the water by themselves, officials said. A rescue swimmer found another and brought him to shore.

But the fourth student was not located and has still not been found.

Shauna White with Cannon Beach Fire & Rescue, May 13, 2023 (KOIN)
Shaunna White with Cannon Beach Fire & Rescue, May 13, 2023 (KOIN)

Lt. Shaunna White with Cannon Beach Fire & Rescue, who is a rescue swimmer but was not on the call Friday, told KOIN 6 News it’s best to research rip current locations and check the tides during a trip to the ocean. Knowledge can save lives.

“Adults or children should not go in the water by themselves. They also shouldn’t go deeper than their knees,” said White. “Children should be supervised at all times. And the parents should be within arm’s reach at all times, so if anything like a rip or wave takes them down, they’re able to snatch them up.”

Cannon Beach Fire pushed to remind people of the dangers of ocean currents and rip currents which can hit quickly and take a person out. If you ever see a distressed person in the water, they urge you to call 911 immediately.

‘Nobody’s stronger than the ocean’

Water safety is an issue close to Nicole Markwell’s heart. She lost her 11-year-old daughter, Lily, after she drowned at Cannon Beach in 2021. One minute, she said, Lily was exploring the low tide near Haystack Rock. The next moment a rip current dragged her out to sea.

Lily Markwell in an undated photo on a GoFundMe page, June 22, 2021 (Family)

“My husband came and said, ‘Your day is about to change because Lily got swept out to sea.’ The Coast Guard was able to rescue her and bring her to shore, but she just didn’t survive,” Markwell said. “She died the next morning.”

After Lily’s death, Markwell knew she wanted to honor her life by educating others about water safety.

“Nobody’s stronger than the ocean,” she said.

She started a non-profit drowning prevention program in Lily’s name, Lily’s Light, teaching parents and kids about the dangers of rip currents, the importance of wearing a life jacket and more — all with hopes of preventing other families from having to endure a similar tragedy.

“This is so preventable. And this is the worst thing that’s ever happened in my entire life, and I never want anybody else to have to go through this. So, I started just even from when we were in the hospital with Lily just knowing, like, I have to share this with people because I can’t just let this happen.”