SAN DIEGO, July 5. LONG-TIME Masters swimmer Bill Earley died yesterday while competing in the annual Fourth of July Coronado Rough Water Swim.
Earley, 66, a former Navy SEAL, has consistently been one of the top swimmers in his age group, several times ranking first in the USA in the backstroke events. He was also a member of three San Diego Masters world record relay squads. Bill had completed the Coronado Rough Water Swim many times.
A Coronado Beach lifeguard pulled Earley from the water at the three-quarter-mile mark at 10:34 a.m. A team of lifeguards, firefighters and paramedics tried frantically to revive him for 28 minutes before he was taken to Sharp Coronado Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 11:28 a.m.
Michael Ellano, of the San Diego County Medical Examiner's Office said: "We are treating this right now as a possible drowning. During the autopsy, if they don't find anything in his lungs, then it will probably be a cardiac event."
Don Baker, a close friend of Early's, stated flatly:
"There's no way Bill Earley drowned."
Baker said he saw Early struggling and swimming backstroke at the quarter-mile buoy of the one-mile event. "His face was red and he said he was feeling really terrible." But Earley refused to let Baker go for help and insisted he swim on, Baker said.
Earley was a backstroker for Yale University during the 1950s, when Yale was one of the premier teams in the nation. In 1973, he helped found the Coronado Masters Swimming Association and served as its first president. He also served as chairman of the legislative committee of the U.S. Masters national convention and was a delegate for 20 years. Most recently he has been a member of the USMS International Committee.
"There's going to be a huge hole in the San Diego swimming community," Baker said. "He was very loyal, very generous, very warm, very patriotic."
Earley served three tours of duty in Vietnam as a Navy SEAL and retired as a commander after 27 years of service. He was active in the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Military Order of World Wars and the Navy League.
David Lamott, a friend of Earley's, was shaken by his friend's death but took comfort in the fact that he died doing something he loved. "Swimming was his life," Lamott said. "There's no other way for him to go than the way he went."
Earley is survived by a son, Morgan, of Escondido, Calif.
At this time, we do not have information about funeral arrangements. We will post this information when it becomes asvailable.
On a personal note: Bill was a good friend and we are going to miss him. Our heartfelt sympathies go out to his family and his many friends around the world.