YACHATS, Ore. (KMTR) – More than two years after two South Eugene High School students drowned in the Pacific Ocean, friends and family members helped dedicate a project on Saturday aimed at making the coastline safer.
Hundreds of people lined the shore at Smelt Sands State Park on Saturday, March 9 to dedicate a new coastal safety marker in honor of Jack Harnsongkram and Connor Ausland.
On February 5, 2011, 17-year-old Jack and 18-year-old Connor were standing on a rock bridge over a water channel when a sneaker wave hit the teens, knocking them in to the water. Both boys drowned within three minutes.
Since their death, friends and family have been working toward building a new warning near the rocks to alert people how dangerous the area is.
"We know that feeling and don't want it to happen to anyone else, is the bottom line,” said Anna Kovach, a friend of Jack Harnsongkram and Connor Ausland.
Along with Kovach, Kathleen Beardsworth was in Yachats on the day Connor and Jack died.
"For me, you know, when we were out here that day, it was a very big learning experience,” said Beardsworth. "Realizing that we're not invincible and that it can happen to you.”
Beardsworth has worked over the last year and half on the Coastal Safety Marker Committee. In that time, volunteers raised around $20,000 in private donations to build the monument. Committee members believe there is no other marker like it on the Oregon Coast.
The marker carries its message with its size. At waist height, the marker is the same height as the wave that hit Connor and Jack.
"It doesn't need to be a tall wave, it doesn't need to be a big, physically-overwhelming wave. A small wave has incredible power,” said Curt Wilson, a member of the Coastal Safety Marker Committee.
A message on the marker reads:
“The ocean is a treacherous wonder.
On Feb. 5, 2011, Jack Harnsongkram and Connor Ausland, two strong young men from Eugene, OR drowned when a nearly waist high sneaker wave swept them off of a rock bridge into the narrow chasm 100M north of here. The force of the freezing, churning water and the shape of the rocks made it impossible for Jack and Connor to climb to safety and equally impossible for their four friends to save them without losing their own lives.
Jack and Connor drowned within 3 minutes.
Respect the immense power of the ocean
Know the tide level
Face the Ocean at all times
Enjoy the beauty of the coast safely. SPEAK UP to others who may be in danger. To those taking risks along the shore: LISTEN.”
The marker was designed by Eugene artist Ellen Tykeson. Tykeson says two sea stars on the front of the memorial represent the lives of Connor and Jack. The six basalt columns represent the six teens who were on the rocks when the incident happened.
As no memorials are allowed on the Oregon coast, the monument is dedicated to all people who’ve lost their lives in the ocean. Park managers hope it leaves a lasting impact in coastal visitors’ minds.
“An artistic piece that also has a safety message, which has a story behind it and really it kind of brings in to account all of the . . . messages we try to share with people,” said J.R. Collier, Manager of the South Beach Oregon State Parks area.
What has been a source of healing for Jack and Connor’s friends and family the group hopes the marker will continues to serve as a reminder for others to be cautious.
“I hope that other people are seeing it and that they're learning [from it],” said Kovach.
“Let people take a step back and go, 'it happened to them, it could happen to me. I am going to step back ten feet because really, what do I gain?'” said Beardsworth.
The safety marker committee says it plans on doing more projects in the future with the State of Oregon Parks and Recreation Department.
The marker is open to the public; it sits on a pathway behind the Adobe Resort. The marker is accessible from Smelt Sands State Park.