Man drowns after being swept out to sea while performing baptism on Californian beach

Benito Flores had been helping to perform the ceremony when he and two other men were washed away by the surf

Rescue crews in California have called off their search for a 43-year-old man who was swept out to sea during an ocean baptism.

Benito Flores, 43, had been helping to perform the ceremony in association with the Jesus Christ Light of the Sky church when he and two other men were washed away by the surf.

Two of the men were able to swim back to shore without injuries but Mr Flores was lost at sea.

He was among several people helping his cousin, Pastor Maurigro Cervantes, baptise a man near the Guadalupe Dunes Preserve north of Santa Barbara.

Some 25 people, mostly Spanish-speaking, attended the event, the Santa Maria Times reported.

Pastor Maurigro Cervantes of the Jesus Christ Light of the Sky church, told KEYT-TV news that he was in the water with two others on Sunday baptising a man in his mid 20s, while his cousin, Benito Flores, was assisting.

"A big wave came and took Benito," Cervantes said. "I tried to take him out. He was heavy. And then another big wave came."

The entire group of worshippers were reportedly dragged into the ocean during the early morning service.

An extensive search by emergency teams failed to find the missing man by nightfall, the Santa Maria Times reported.

The ceremony took place near the Rancho Guadalupe Dunes Preserve which boasts sand dunes that tower 550 feet high - among the tallest on the West Coast.

The Preserve is also the location used in the 1923 film, The Ten Commandments, by Cecil B. DeMille.

Park authorities warn on their website that the surf at the spot can be "very dangerous."

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