‘This Is It. I'm Going to Die Today': Young Samaritans Rescue Swimmer Carried Off By Current In San Francisco's Aquatic Park

Kevin Shanahan took all the necessary precautions.

Or, at least, he thought he did.

The San Francisco man has been a member of the city's legendary Dolphin Club for seven years. Hundreds of times he has headed out into the chilly waters of San Francisco Bay (without a wetsuit, as is Dolphin tradition) to swim laps in Aquatic Park.

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On February 21st, Shanahan checked the tide charts and asked fellow swimmers about the currents. Convinced conditions were ok, Shanahan dove into the water.

He was surprised to find out they were not.

The heavy rains and wild weather this winter have played havoc with the tides and currents in San Francisco Bay. Swimmers say they are unpredictable and unlike they have seen in quite some time.

When Shanahan swam west, away from the club and toward the municipal pier, he noticed he was going faster than he normally would.

When he turned around to swim back, he went nowhere.

"And that's when I realized, boy, something's going on here," Shanahan said.


As the current pulled him toward the pier. Shanahan feared he would be pinned to a sea wall on the other side or, worse yet, dragged under it.

"My choices were limited and I knew I was in trouble," Shanahan said. "My only recourse was, I need to catch. I need to grab a piling because I'm going under the pier."

Shanahan did just that. He saw a few people fishing further down the pier and began yelling for help. He didn't know if anyone could hear him above the sound of the wind and the waves.

Aaron Olvera did.

The 9-year-old from Sonoma had the day off from school so he and his 20-year-old brother, Fermin, and Fermin's 19-year-old girlfriend, Jennifer Cervantes were fishing for crabs that day. The weather was poor, so the three were just about to give up even though they hadn't caught anything.

That's when the younger Olvera heard Shanahan yelling. He couldn't make out what he was saying, but Cervantes could.

"He's asking for a rope," Cervantes said.

The three young people sprang into action, lowering a rope down to Shanahan, calling 911, and getting in position to direct the rescuers.

From where they stood, directly above Shanahan, they couldn't see him clinging to the piling below. The also didn't know that hypothermia was setting in.

"This is it. This is it," Shanahan recalled thinking. "I'm kind of accepting the fact I'm going to die today."

A San Francisco Police rescue boat reached Shanahan in time, though, and hauled him out of the water.

The two things he wanted more than anything after that was to get warm and to thank the brave kids who saved him.

At a San Francisco Fire Council meeting in City Hall on Wednesday, that's just what he got to do.

"Are you Aaron?" Shanahan asked upon seeing Olvera. "You saved my life."

At the ceremony, all three young people were given commendations by Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White.

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