The Pleasanton woman who drowned last week while trying to save three young adults from the undertow at Cowell Ranch State Beach has been identified as a part-time employee in the Pleasanton Unified School District.
Aarti Senthilvel, 47, served as a substitute noon supervisor in the district since 2013, primarily at Vintage Hills Elementary School. Those who knew her describe her as "sweet" and "compassionate."
"Aarti was a quiet, kind and compassionate noon supervisor," said Ann Jayne, principal at Vintage Hills. "She was always thoughtful, smiling and willing to help students. I, and the whole Vintage Hills staff, am devastated by this loss. We are not surprised by her selflessness for others. We wish the Senthilvel family peace in this time of great pain."
Senthilvel was with family at Cowell Ranch State Beach south of Half Moon Bay the evening of July 1. Three families were together at the time, the youngest member present being a 14-year-old, according to California State Parks officials, who are handling the investigation along with the San Mateo County Coroner's Office.
Parks officials said that it seems "the incident started as a photo opportunity at the beach," based on follow-up interviews.
"A wave washed through the group of people and at least three of them were swept into the water," officials said. "Friends and family rushed to save them. As the chaotic scene unfolded, as many as seven people were in the water."
The three people carried out by the undertow were all young adults, and one of them was Senthilvel's 18-year-old daughter, according to spokeswoman Detective Rosemerry Blankswade from the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office.
Senthilvel was one who went into the water to try to save them, but she was carried away herself. While others rescued the three in the water, they weren't able to reach Senthilvel, Blankswade said.
Emergency crews from the sheriff's office, Coastside Fire, AMR and California State Parks responded to the incident at around 6:30 p.m. and performed a water rescue, but they were unable to revive Senthilvel. She was pronounced dead at the scene.
Parks officials say the investigation is ongoing and further information will be released as it becomes available. Early reports indicated that the three swept out by the undertow were children, but Blankswade clarified this week that all those involved were age 18 or older.
"Ms. Senthilvel was a valued member of our Pleasanton Unified community," PUSD spokesman Patrick Gannon said. "Our hearts go out to her family and friends during this very difficult time."
Memorial service details for Senthilvel have not yet been made public.