SAN DIEGO — Surveillance footage shows the moment early Saturday morning when a suicidal San Diego man careened off a 50-foot cliff into the water, his twin 2-year-old daughters on his lap, according to police.
The 47-year-old man and the toddlers all survived the plunge due to a daring rescue by a San Diego police K-9 handler, Fox 5 in San Diego reported.
“Originally, I got a call that the dad may have a gun and could try and drive off the Coronado Bridge,” San Diego police Officer John Wiese told the news station.
A GoFundMe page established to help in the girls’ recovery states the twins were at a relative’s home Friday for a planned visit with their father.
“In the early hours the following morning they were taken without permission by their father,” the fundraising page alleges. “(Their mother) received numerous calls and texts from him clearly stating she may not see her kids again.”
The woman called 911 around 4:30 a.m. and then got the man back on the phone while authorities worked to pinpoint his cellphone’s location.
Police dispatchers were able to trace the man’s cellphone to the area of Sunset Cliffs, a neighborhood in San Diego’s Point Loma community. Fox 5 reported that Wiese, who was already nearby, and another officer both responded to the call.
The San Diego Union-Tribune reported that the other officer, Lt. Dave Bautista, located the truck but, as soon as he got close, the driver accelerated and drove off the cliff.
A nearby home’s security camera captured footage of the crash. In the video, which was obtained by Fox 5, the truck’s headlights are seen approaching in the dark. The vehicle appears to hit a curb or a rock before going airborne and flipping into the water.
Wiese was on the scene and over the cliff in minutes. The K-9 handler told ABC 10 News that he thought of his own family when he saw the man and his daughters down in the water.
“I could see him, and he had one of the girls in his arms,” Wiese said. “I have a 2-year-old daughter at home so I imagined, ‘What if that was my wife and kid down there?’ You’re not going to stand there on the cliff and watch it happen.”
Watch video of the crash below, courtesy of the Fox affiliate.
He needed to find a way down into the surf, he said.
“My first thought was just to jump,” Wiese told Fox 5. “But I thought, ‘If I jump and hit something, I won’t be much help.’
“Then, I remembered I have a 100-foot leash in my car that we use for SWAT missions, and I thought, ‘If that can hold my 95-pound dog, then maybe it could hold me.’”
ABC 10 News reported that Wiese took off his gun belt and tied the leash around his waist. He tossed the other end to other officers who, by that time, had responded to the scene and proceeded to rappel down the cliff face.
When he got to the family, his training and experience as a former U.S. Marine kicked in and he did a water rescue, swimming under the man to keep him above water while he held his daughters in his arms, the ABC affiliate reported. One of the girls was limp but her sister was alert.
Wiese and the other officers used a backpack and the leash to hoist the twins up one at a time to an ambulance. Fox 5 footage from the scene shows a female officer carrying one of the little girls away from the cliff.
The girls’ father was lifted to safety by a San Diego Fire-Rescue helicopter, according to the Union-Tribune.
“His first statement was, ‘I couldn’t believe we didn’t die,’ because he was trying to commit suicide,” Wiese told the news station. “And then he told me the girls were actually sitting in his lap when he drove over the cliff, and no one had the seatbelts on.
“I couldn’t fathom how they survived.”
Until Wiese took a look at how the truck landed.
“The entire passenger parts were crushed, except for the driver’s area,” the officer told Fox 5. “So, had they had been in car seats in the back or anywhere else, they probably wouldn’t have survived the impact. If they had been strapped in, they might have drowned.”
San Diego Police Chief David Nisleit told ABC 10 News that Wiese, who was the department’s Officer of the Year for 2019, likely saved the lives of all three of the crash survivors.
“That’s probably the most heroic thing I’ve seen in my 32 years,” Nisleit said.
Wiese said he’s just glad all three are expected to survive.
“That’s the best news you can have,” he told the Union-Tribune. “All I care about is that those girls are going to live and have a second chance at life.”