A Newport Beach police vehicle drives by Lifeguard Tower 71, where a dead body was found Monday.

A Newport Beach Police vehicle drives by Tower 71, where a dead body was found on Monday, March 4. (KEVIN CHANG / Daily Pilot / March 4, 2013)

Passersby found the body of a woman in her 20s face down in the sand near West Oceanfront and Highland Street in West Newport, police said Monday.

It was unclear how the woman died.

Authorities were called at 6 a.m. Monday to the area near the Balboa Peninsula's Lifeguard Tower 71, where they determined the woman was dead, said Newport Beach Police Department spokeswoman Kathy Lowe.

The woman was described as Asian and 5 foot 2 with a thin build.

Detectives and the coroner remained on the scene as of 8:50 a.m.

About 11:30 a.m Monday, police continued to walk alleys and scan the area for evidence. Access to the beach in the area was open. Surfers changed in and out of wetsuits while families played at nearby West Newport Park.

Passersby said that while the news was certainly upsetting, they were reserving judgment until they had more information about what may have happened.

Nicole Telson, who pushed her toddler daughter on the swings, said if it was found that the woman had been the victim of an assault of some kind, "then that would bother me, that someone in the area could do something so heinous."

But because the cause of the woman's death is still unknown, she said she generally felt that the neighborhood was safe.

L.J. O'Leary, who said he works in an office across West Coast Highway from the park, said he intended to surf as planned.

Bruce Quarto, a Claremont area resident, said in a phone interview that the more serious crimes he has seen since buying a beachfront house on Highland in 2005 have been thefts.

When he bought the house, the only thing on the previous owner's disclosure forms was a car break-in, Quarto said.

Still, he installed several security cameras to keep an eye on the house and its back patio while he's gone. He said he has given footage from the cameras to police and that this has helped them catch thieves stealing from open patios or targeting copper pipes.

But Monday, when his friend Bill Korpy of Dana Point texted him about the grim discovery just outside his vacation home, Quarto was shocked.

"It's a real quiet neighborhood," he said. "This is more exclusive, and there's not a sidewalk so there's no one breaking beer bottles on the porch."

Anyone with additional information is asked to call Det. Garrett Fitzgerald at (949) 644-3797.

lauren.williams@latimes.com

jill.cowan@latimes.com

Twitter: @TheDailyPilot