Religion

California Man Disappears During Beach Baptism Ceremony

| by Allison Geller

A man went missing after a baptism ceremony in Santa Barbara, Calif. He and two other people were swept out to sea.

Local paper The Santa Maria Times reports that while the two others were able to swim back towards shore, the 43-year-old man had not been found as of 6 p.m. yesterday, according to the Santa Barbara County Fire Department. The ceremony occurred at 10 a.m.

Santa Maria church Jesus Christ Light of the Sky pastor Mauro Cervantes presided over the baptism ceremony at Rancho Guadalupe Dunes Preserve, in which 25 people participated.

Cervantes said the church performs baptism ceremonies in the water two or three times a year.

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The mostly Spanish-speaking church members who had attended the ceremony waited in the parking lot as emergency crews arrived and promptly began searching when it was reported that the man, identified as Benito Flores, had gone missing. Several area fire departments joined the Santa Barbara County fire crews and water rescue team to aid in the search. A Coast Guard vessel and helicopters from the county air support unit were also deployed.

Fire department battalion chief Diondray Wiley said rescue workers were searching south of the spot where the man was last seen due to the sweep of the ocean currents.

Cervantes told news station KCOY that Flores was his cousin and had been helping him baptize another participant when a “rogue wave” knocked him down and pulled him into the ocean.

Park authorities warn that the surf can be “very dangerous" at the preserve, located just south of the small town of Guadalupe, due to the high sand dunes that reach 550 feet.

Sources: Santa Maria Times, KFSN, Associated Press, Los Angeles Times