Tragic swim at Spooner's Cove for Poly student

Friends urged him to leave the treacherous area, but he dove in and did not resurface

ppemberton@thetribunenews.comJune 20, 2013 

UPDATE 5:30 p.m. Friday: As a CHP airplane searched the coastline Friday morning, Bryan Wagner walked onto the rocky outcropping north of Spooner’s Cove, stared at the ocean, and said goodbye to his son.

Stefan Wagner, a 21-year-old former water polo player from Fresno, swam near that spot Thursday afternoon, dove beneath the surface and disappeared. After a throng of rescue personnel and volunteers resumed a search for the Cal Poly student Friday morning, he was officially declared missing and presumed dead.

“He was doing what he liked,” his grandfather, Jim Wagner said, sitting at a picnic table at the cove, located in Montana de Oro State Park.

Stefan Wagner, a third-year student majoring in biomedical engineering, was with friends at the cove Thursday afternoon when he jumped into the water, said Lisa Remingtion, a supervising ranger for California State Parks. The friends, who tried to get Wagner out of the water, called 911 about a swimmer in distress at 4:43 p.m.

“They were very concerned for him from the beginning,” said Remington, who works out of the park’s San Luis Obispo Coast District.

Still, Wagner resisted efforts to exit the water.

“At some point, he swam away, dove into the water and didn’t come back up,” Remington said.

Remington said she could not comment at this time on whether alcohol or drugs were involved.

A multi-agency search team arrived on the scene Thursday night, but Wagner could not be found.

The search resumed at 7 a.m. Friday with the sheriff’s office’s search and recovery dive team.

Search and rescue personnel also searched from the bluffs as the Coast Guard and CHP searched from the ocean and sky. Harbor Patrol and Cal Fire was also involved.

Meanwhile, Wagner’s father, grandfather and uncle waited for news of a recovery.

They arrived at the park around 2:30 a.m. Friday. After sleeping in a pickup truck overnight, they heard search and rescue teams arrive at 7 a.m.

“We’ve been here ever since, waiting for Stefan,” Jim Wagner said.

Jim Wagner, who used to dive for abalone and lobster in San Pedro, said he belonged to a family of good swimmers.

“I taught them all to swim,” he said.

Stefan Wagner, who played water polo in high school, was also a bodysurfer who “loved the ocean,” Bryan Wagner said.

But the conditions at Spooner’s Cove are notoriously treacherous. Known for big waves, choppy conditions and currents, it claimed the life of another Cal Poly student, 19-year-old Enrique Jimenez, in 2006.

“That’s a dangerous spot out there,” Jim Wagner said, eying the spot where his grandson was last seen.

Stefan Wagner was a serious but pleasant man, he said, who belonged to a close-knit family. The family – Stefan Wagner had two brothers and a sister -- met at Jim Wagner’s place every Sunday for dinner.

“I’m very thankful that I’ve gotten to know him since he was born,” his grandfather said.

Bryan Wagner was visibly shaken, less than 24 hours after hearing his son had vanished.

“Great kid,” said the Fresno attorney, when asked about his son. “Happy.”

By 10:30, the divers stopped for the day. But they planned to periodically re-enter the water when it’s safe, Remington said.

“Some of this can be quite dangerous,” Remington said. “The ocean is a powerful and mighty force.”

Meanwhile, searches from the sky and land will continue.

“There certainly has been an out flowing of support,” Jim Wagner said, appreciative of the efforts to find his grandson.

At this point, the best they can hope for is closure. But if a body is never found, he added, the family will have to decide where to hold a memorial.
“I hope and pray that we can find his body.”

UPDATE 12:50 p.m.: The man who went missing in the surf at Spooner's Cove Thursday was Stefan Wagner, 21, of Fresno, according to authorities.

Wagner is a third year Cal  Poly student.

UPDATE 7:20 p.m.: The search for a man who went missing at Spooner’s Cove in Montaña de Oro State Park on Thursday has been called off because of the waning light, according to the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's Office.

The man has not been found.

The San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office dive team responded to the scene Thursday evening, but because of high surf and the late hour they did not plan to begin searching until Friday, according to the Sheriff’s Office.

Original story: A man has been reported missing at Spooner's Cove in Montaña de Oro State Park after he went into the water Thursday afternoon and did not come out, according to Cal Fire.

After receiving a call reporting a man missing in the water at 4:49 p.m., search crews responded to the scene.

Harbor patrol, the Coast Guard and Cal Fire crews are assisting with the search.

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