Ben Carlson.

Ben Carlson. (July 6, 2014)

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  • Newport Beach, CA, United States

A 15-year veteran lifeguard drowned while rescuing a swimmer Sunday evening in Newport Beach.

Ben Carlson, 32, is the first lifeguard to die in the line of duty in the city's history, Newport Beach fire chief Scott Poster said in a televised news conference.

"It's just an utter tragedy to lose a man of that caliber in the water today," Poster said.

According to the chief, Carlson entered the water from a rescue boat that had responded to a swimmer battling 6- to 8-foot surf off the Balboa Peninsula near 16th Street shortly after 5 p.m.

Carlson began helping the swimmer to shore when a large wave hit them both and the rescuer disappeared in surf that reached 12 feet, Poster said.

After a three-hour search that included a helicopter, 25 people in the water and at least 30 personnel supporting from the shore, rescuers found Carlson and pulled him onto the Newport Pier.

Paramedics took Carlson to Hoag Hospital where he was pronounced dead, Poster said.

"The swimmer that he rescued made it safely to shore," the chief said.