Witness recalls panic after children swept to sea in Oregon

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Mark Graves

In this Sunday, Jan. 12, 2020 photo, a Coast Guard helicopter continues the search for a missing boy near Falcon Cove Beach in Clastop county, Ore. A 7-year-old girl is dead and her 4-year-old brother is missing after they and their father were swept into the ocean on the Oregon coast amid a high-surf warning. The father was holding the two children when a wave swept all three into the water Saturday, Jan. 11 in the Falcon Cove area, near the small coastal community of Cannon Beach, authorities said. (Mark Graves/The Oregonian via AP)

PORTLAND, OR – Joanne Cornelius had just finished taking photos of the breathtaking waves and extreme high tide outside her home on the Oregon coast when a frantic woman pounded on her window and asked her to call 911.

Children had been washed out to sea by a wave, the woman said.

A family visiting from Portland had been storm-watching on the remote beach Saturday when a powerful wave caught them by surprise, sweeping the father, his 4-year-old son and his 7-year-old daughter into the surf.

A police officer pulled the girl from the waves, but she died at a hospital. The boy's body has not been found, and the U.S. Coast Guard has stopped searching for him. The father, Jeremy Stiles, 47, survived and is recovering from hypothermia at a hospital.

“It’s a dangerous beach. It’s a thing that people have to be aware of in winter at the beach at the Oregon coast. There’s dangerous waves, and when the signs are up, people have a tendency to walk right by,” said Cornelius, who recalled seeing the family heading toward the beach a few minutes earlier as she returned from photographing the waves.

“It was tragic, just absolutely tragic.”

The family said in a statement on a fundraising page that the family had been walking on a beach trail when the waves came crashing in. The GoFundMe posting identified the children as William and Lola.

“Our hearts as you can imagine could not be more broken as both children were loved beyond measure by our entire family and so many others,” the statement said.