The rescue began around 1 p.m. in waters off La Jolla Shores beach, near Kellogg Park.
San Diego Fire-Rescue Department spokesman Lee Swanson told a local television outlet that a large group students from the Rancho Verde High School swim team in the Riverside County city of Moreno Valley were swimming near La Jolla Cove.
“We believe that a couple of them started to panic, which triggered other ones to get a little bit scared,” said Sgt. Ed Harris with San Diego Lifeguards.
Between 18 and 22 students had to be rescued from La Jolla Cove and La Jolla Shores, rescue officials said. One student was unconscious and was taken to a local hospital. The student had swallowed some water and was showing signs of hypothermia, said Marine Safety Lt. John Sandmeyer.
Harris said 64 high school swimmers and three coaches were out swimming in the area. The group, Harris said, was about a half-mile out from the shore when the large number of swimmers had to be rescued.
Once panic set in, “it just snowballed into a mass rescue, so we put boards in the water, we put [Jet]skis in the water, we put lifeguards in and boats and just everyone,” Harris said.
Harris said the swimmers had gone out into the water against the advice of lifeguards.
At around 1:45 p.m., many of the student swimmers were gathered at La Jolla Shores, where officials were conducting a head count of the group. On land, many of the minors were receiving medical attention from lifeguards.
Sandmeyer soon confirmed all the swimmers were accounted for. Officials said all the students were expected to be OK. Many of the teens were visibly shaken from the ordeal.
"Fortunately, it's a good learning experience," Sandmeyer said.
Harris said the water was about 59 degrees the morning of March 30, with waves between two and four feet at the time of the rescue. It was windy at the beach, he said.
Rancho Verde High School, part of Moreno Valley's Val Verde Unified School District, is located about 88 miles north of La Jolla.
Chris Wynn, director of security with the Val Verde Unified School District, said the student swimmers were in La Jolla for training. He said the ages of the students are unknown, as is the skill level of the swim team.
– NBC 7