By Kimberly Miller
Arizona Daily Wildcat
A spring break vacation ended in tragedy last Wednesday when a 21-year-old UA student drowned in a surfing accident in Santa Cruz, Calif.
Jeff Hannan Sehler, a sociology junior, was pulled under by an strong riptide after struggling for an hour to swim back to shore.
His body was recovered Saturday.
Detective Larry Roland of the Santa Cruz County Coroner's Office said recent heavy rains flooded a nearby river increasing the amount of water flowing into the ocean and creating dangerous riptides.
A memorial service will be held tonight at 7 p.m. in the Hillel Foundation building, 1245 E. Second St.
Sehler, originally from Milwaukee, Wis., and three friends were vacationing in San Francisco when they decided to drive down to a friend's beach house on Pajaro Dunes, in Santa Cruz, for the night.
Sehler's roommate, Matt Germino, was in the ocean with Sehler before he disappeared. He said neither of them realized how strong the riptide was and although the waves were average sized they were coming in one right after the other.
Germino said he knew they were in trouble about 10 minutes after they began to paddle out. He said before they knew it they were about 250 yards from shore and he had lost sight of Sehler.
"Jeff and I just got separated and I lost track of him as soon as we got out there," he said.
Germino said he also struggled for about an hour before he got lucky and caught a wave that brought him to shore.
"I caught one wave that was probably my saving grace," Germino said. "I guess it was just Mother Nature."
Germino said he had no communication with Sehler when they were in the water.
"The hardest part about the whole thing is that we couldn't talk," Germino said. "We both knew what was going on in our minds but we couldn't communicate."
Two friends, Keith Heuschkel and Marc Schiavo, were on the beach during the incident. Heuschkel said he didn't realize Sehler
was having trouble getting back to shore until Germino made it in.
"We had no idea what was going on," Heuschkel said. "We knew they were way out but we just thought they were having a good time. I guess they got separated and after an hour Matt finally made it in and said, 'Oh my god it's crazy out there'."
At that point Germino said they watched Sehler for a half hour believing he was going to make it in. But when they saw Sehler's hand go up for help they called 911.
"When he was out there we were just thinking, 'Jeff catch a wave,' but then we saw him throw his hand up for help," Heuschkel said. "That's when I jumped in."
Heuschkel said he tried to reach Sehler but that the tide was so strong he was only able to get half way to him.
Germino said police arrived about 10 minutes later. He said at one point before police arrived, it seemed as though Sehler was going to make it in.
"He was only two or three waves out and I thought he was going to make it," Germino said. "I went into the water to try and get him, but I lost sight of him and right after that his board washed up on shore."
Sehler's body was found Saturday about a quarter mile from where he was last seen.
Sehler is survived by his parents, Stan and Marsha, and two older brothers, all of Milwaukee.
A memorial fund has been set up in Sehler's name at Camp Interlochen, where he taught water skiing and wind surfing for the last three summers. Contributions may be sent to: The Jeff Sehler Camp Interlochen Memorial Fund, c/o The Jewish Community Center, 6255 N. Santa Monica Blvd., Milwaukee. WI, 53217.
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