17-year-old surfer describes rescuing man, boy at Ocean Beach 

click to enlarge San Francisco Fire Department
  • Mike Koozmin/The S.F. Examiner
  • San Francisco firefighters search the waters off of Ocean Beach on Wednesday for 14-year-old Marco Cornejo, who was swept away out to sea.

As crews continue to search today for a 14-year-old boy who was swept out to sea at San Francisco's Ocean Beach on Wednesday afternoon, a 17-year-old surfer is being hailed as a hero for saving the boy's father and cousin.

Tony Barbero, a 17-year-old junior at San Francisco's St. Ignatius College Preparatory high school, was surfing at Ocean Beach near Lincoln Way just before 4 p.m. when he noticed a teenage boy and a man in the water.

Barbero is the son of San Francisco fire Capt. Joe Barbero.

Tony Barbero said at first he thought the boy was just playing in the water, but then he saw a man struggling in the water "with a grim expression on his face" and pointing to the boy.

The surfer went up to the boy and heard him screaming for help. Barbero gave the boy his surfboard and then went over to the man, who was bobbing in the water.

The boy told Barbero that the man, his uncle, could not swim.

"I was afraid he was dead," Barbero said this morning from his school.

He said he "instantly swallowed my fear," went into "autopilot" and channeled his survival instincts.

He grabbed the man, who was facedown in the water and not breathing, and pulled him onto shore.

Paramedics were waiting on the beach and had to resuscitate the unconscious man with CPR.

The boy was able to get to shore with Barbero's surfboard.

The man was taken to a hospital and the Fire Department said today he is in critical condition.

Barbero said the boy, who was not seriously injured, was crying on the beach after the rescue and was upset about his missing cousin.

"I hugged him and told him to hang in there," Barbero said.

The boy's cousin who remains missing has been identified as 14-year-old Marco Cornejo.

Fire and U.S. Coast Guard crews have been searching for him since Wednesday afternoon. Barbero said he never saw the missing boy.

Barbero said his surf session at the mostly empty beach suddenly "was really chaotic" and has shown him the importance of signs that warn beachgoers about the changing tides and rogue waves that can pull people out into the ocean.

Although his father is a firefighter, Barbero said he is not trained in emergency response.

He said his dad has been supportive of his heroics and told him to stay humble. Barbero said he considers his dad and other first responders to be the real heroes who save people's lives.

"I just thought I was going to surf after school," Barbero said. "No big deal."

He described himself as a "big writer" who recently started surfing about nine months ago.

Since the rescue, many people at the beach and today at his school have come up to thank him and an announcement was made on the campus public address system this morning to acknowledge Barbero's actions.

He said he is planning to take a break from surfing and is still "just trying to process things."

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