Cal Poly freshman Enrique Jimenez stood on at outcropping of rock at Spooner's Cove when the set came in.
A rogue wave, generated by a powerful south swell, surged past the reef and broke hard on the rocks just after noon on Sept. 22, pulling the 18-year-old San Joaquin Valley native into the ocean. Two other students risked their lives to help pull him in with a piece of rope, but eventually lost sight of him.
Waves in the cove at the time of the incident reached as high as 10 feet and formed 10-second periods. The mighty swell of currents inside the cove made swimming difficult. County Sheriff's Sgt. Brian Hascall explained that rogue waves claim a life in the area roughly every fall or winter.
"It happens sometimes at the breakwater in Morro Bay," he said. "People stand out on the rocks to watch the break, and a big wave comes in. That's pretty much what happened here."
A rescue party comprised of boats from the U.S. Coast Guard base in Morro Bay and jet skis manned by San Luis Obispo County Sheriff officers searched the surf around Montana de Oro for several hours. At around 2:15 p.m., sheriff's officials, presuming Jimenez had drowned, called in the divers to locate his body.
On the morning of Sept. 25, the Sheriff's Department recovered the student's body, trapped between underwater rocks, 100 yards from where the rogue wave struck.
Expeditions to Montana de Oro State Park constitute a common element of a Cal Poly student acclimation program, dubbed "Week of Welcome."
Typically, Student Life and Leadership would form a WoW group out of about 15 incoming freshmen. However, Jimenez's group was part of an alternative program called O.U.R. (Orientation for United Rasa) an operation under the umbrella of national Chicano student group MEXA.
O.U.R., like the larger WoW program, seeks to acclimatize incoming freshman with the region. It also seeks to strengthen ties within the Latino community on campus.
Orientation week for San Luis Obispo's state university went under wraps about the same time rescuers called off the search for Jimenez. Almost immediately, questions arose as to how the tragedy would affect programs aimed at incoming freshmen in the years to come.
"I'm sure there's going to be a long assessment process," Cal Poly spokesperson Stacia Momburg said.
Student Life and Leadership Director Ken Barclay described how a strong dialogue over the issue has already begun among staff, but commented that helping the family and fellow students in whatever way possible remains the school's top priority.
Several administrators expressed their view that it would be a shame to exclude San Luis Obispo's wilder places from future orientation excursions.
"This was a tragedy no one was at fault," Barclay commented. "We're going to go over the activities and find a way to make the program safer."