Safety marker honors teen drowning victims, serves as a warning

YACHATS, Ore. -- Two years ago, a high school trip to the Oregon coast turned tragic and now a safety marker, dedicated Saturday, is warning people about the danger of the ocean.

The waves crashing along the Yachats coastline display all of nature's beauty. They also a harsh reminder of how powerful the ocean can be.

In February 2011, two students from South Eugene High School -- 18-year-old Connor Ausland and 17-year-old Jack Harnsongkram -- drowned while visiting Smelt Sands State Park in Yachats.

The teenagers were on a retreat to the coast with their fellow members of Mr. Axmen - a group of dedicated South Eugene seniors elected as representatives of the student body.

Jack and Connor were with a group of students on a rocky outcropping when waves came crashing in and swept them into the ocean.

Both drowned.

Family, friends and former classmates gathered at the park on Saturday to dedicate a marker meant to remind others of how dangerous the ocean can be.

Hundreds of people gathered at Smelt Sand State Park for the dedication ceremony of the "coastal safety marker".

State Park manager J.R. Collier said that the project has been two years in the making.

"I don't know of another example of a marker or safety message that contains all the elements that this one does," said Collier.

The marker stands at the point inland that sneaker waves can reach.

Sculpture designer Ellen Tykson included two starfish on the marker, representing the lives that were taken by such a wave in February, 2011.

"I wanted it to be as beautiful as possible, but I wanted it to refer somehow Jack and Connor," Tykson said.

The hope is that the permanent marker will tell the story of this unexpected death, making people reflect on their own safety.

"Never turn your back on the ocean," said Collier.