By Paul Milo
NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
BELMAR, NJ-- A girl who was a student at a local elementary school drowned Thursday night and a second girl, also a young borough resident, was on life support after being pulled from the water, Mayor Matt Doherty said.
Police responded to a call of a distressed swimmer at the ocean beach at approximately 6 p.m., although Doherty did not know the precise time of the incident.
The juveniles were last seen around 7 p.m.
Officers "responded immediately" and pulled the girl from the water before receiving a second call for a distressed swimmer shortly afterwards.
With the summer vacation season still a few days away, there were no lifeguards stationed on the beach.
One of the victims died and the second was in critical condition at Jersey Shore University Medical Center, where Doherty was heading Thursday night. He did not release the names of the girls but said their families had been notified.
Three boats, a helicopter and several lifeguards were in the vicinity of the 9th Avenue beach Thursday night in what appeared to be a search for another missing swimmer. Doherty said the search was carried out as a precaution but has been called off after authorities spoke to the girls' parents and determined there were no other persons in the water.
The Coast Guard, State Police, Belmar Water Rescue and Manasquan Water Rescue all assisted in the search.
Bill McKim, a longtime resident of the area, said he witnessed police pull a person from the water around 5:30 p.m. at the 10th Avenue beach near McKim's home.
As lifeguards and police were assembled following that incident, rescuers returned to the water about a half-hour later to help a second person in distress, McKim said. He also saw medical personnel attending to both people on the beach for several minutes.
"I saw a police officer stripped down to his underwear and white t-shirt" as he assisted in the incident, McKIm said.
McKim noted that the incidents occurred at low tide, exposing more of a stone jetty nearby, where earlier he had seen several children. According to the National Weather Service, there was a moderate risk of rip currents at the Jersey Shore Thursday.
Additional details surrounding the dual tragedies were not immediately available Thursday night.
"As mayor of Belmar or any town you feel responsible for the residents, and that's only heightened in the case of children," Doherty, sounding shaken, said.
"When you have a devastating loss like this you feel extraordinarily helpless."
Atlantic City search for teen swimmers now 'recovery effort'
JOHN RUSSO & VINCENT JACKSON Staff Writers
6 hrs ago
ATLANTIC CITY — As rescuers searched for his 15-year-old daughter, Dirk Spence called another missing swimmer "a hero" Thursday evening.
Kalia Spence and an unidentified teenage boy were reported missing around 6:30 p.m. off the beach at Dr. Martin Luther King Boulevard, Atlantic City Beach Patrol Chief Steve Downey said.
“My heart goes to the family (of the boy),” Dirk Spence told The Press of Atlantic City as he watched the search for his daughter.
“That little guy was a hero. He will always be a hero in my book. It’s a tragedy. Let’s all come together, no matter good or bad, we can make it through.”
The search began shortly after 6:30 p.m. after witnesses reported seeing two people struggling in the water, Downey said.
The rip currents pulled one teen, later identified as Spence, under the water, and the unidentified boy was pulled under when he went looking for Spence.
Mayor Don Guardian arrived at 7:30 p.m. to watch the rescue effort.
“This is a tough beach. The undercurrent is very rough,” Guardian said.
About two hours into the search, Downey said, “At this point it’s a recovery.”
The beach patrol, the Coast Guard, and city police and firefighters used boats, helicopters and swimmers on surfboards to search the ocean. The Brigantine Dive Team responded from Brigantine, police Sgt. Kevin Fair said.
Rescuers were still searching at 9 p.m. Thursday.
The Coast Guard and State Police Marine Bureau continued searching Thursday night using boats with lights on them. The Atlantic City Fire Department and beach patrol will continue their search at daybreak, Downey said.
The search began after emergency calls from witnesses who said two swimmers were in the ocean and appeared to be in distress, Downey said. The beaches were not guarded at the time, he said.
Downey said witnesses reported the teen girl was in the water and the teen boy went out to help.
As many as 100 people were on the beach watching as rescuers searched.
“The beach patrol left at 6 p.m. Normally we don’t have people going back in the water. It was a cool day. It was windy, (and) the water was cold," Guardian said.
Guardian said that the rescuers never once saw the victims when they arrived on the scene.
Guardian said this is usually not the time of year that people go swimming after hours, but a group of kids went into the water after the lifeguards left at 6. p.m.
In 2012, rescuers searched for Khitan Devine, a 10-year-old boy who disappeared while swimming off Atlantic City. Khitan went missing off the beach at Dr. Martin Luther King Boulevard, which then-Fire Chief Dennis Brooks called “the worst spot” on the Atlantic City beach.
The dreaded "rip tide" does not have anything to do with tides, so professionals prefer the term "rip current." A rip current is a long, narrow band of water that can pull swimmer away from shore and out to sea in just a few seconds. Rip currents are dangerous, and it's best to learn how to identify and stay out of them. If, however, you get caught in a rip current, the right response gives you a big advantage.
1Identify a rip tide. What most people call a rip tide is technically a "rip current": a narrow channel of water rushing from the beach to the sea (or sometimes along the beach). Stay aware of your surroundings and learn the warning signs:
- Avoid channels of water that look different from the surroundings. A rip current can be choppier and foamier, or it can be a quiet gap in the line of breaking waves. It may be a slightly different color than the surrounding water.
- Use special caution close to low tide and in high surf conditions, but be aware rip currents can happen at any time.
2Exit shallow water if you feel a rip current. If you feel a strong pull in shallow water, get out. A rip current is difficult to fight once you are chest-deep. If the water is waist-deep or shallower, you can likely walk to shore (or sideways out of the current) if you keep your footing.
3Remain calm. If you get caught in a rip current, don't panic: it takes a clear head to escape. Understand that a rip current does not drag you underwater, even if it feels that way when a wave hits you. Rip currents only pull you straight out to sea. Good swimmers are not in immediate danger of drowning unless they exhaust themselves by trying to fight the current.
4Call for help if you are a poor swimmer. Rip currents are especially dangerous to people who cannot swim well. If you do not think you will be able to reach the shore, get the attention of a lifeguard or of other beachgoers by waving your arms and yelling for help.
- Trying to rescue someone by swimming into a rip current is very dangerous. People on shore should throw you a floating object to hang onto instead.
5Swim parallel to shore to escape the current. Most rip currents are less than 30 feet (9.1 m) wide, though they can reach 100–200 feet (30.5–61.0 m). Instead of trying to swim against the current — which is much stronger than you are — swim parallel to the shore to get out of its path. The rip current will carry you further away from shore as you swim, but don't panic. This is not a foolproof method, but it is a good option for a strong swimmer. If possible, look for these signs before choosing a direction:
- The longshore current, a normal current moving parallel to the beach, is often strong enough to push you back into the rip current if you try to swim against it. Check the direction of the longshore current in advance by asking the lifeguard or observing the angle of waves on the beach.
- Rip currents often form around jetties and other structures perpendicular to the beach. If you are near one of these structures, swim away from it.
- Swim in the direction of the nearest breaking waves. These mark the edge of the rip current.
6Conserve energy when necessary. If you are not making any progress by swimming, or if you are getting tired, conserve your energy. Float on your back or tread water instead of fighting the current. Once you are past the breaking waves, the rip current will slow down and fan out into multiple branches, becoming much weaker. If you do not have the energy to make it back to shore, stay afloat and relax until you are ready to begin. Continue to signal for help if there are people present.
- Most rip currents subside or become weak enough to escape soon after the breaking waves. In extreme cases, a rip current can extend up to 1,000 feet (304.8 m) offshore.
- Recent research suggests that many rip currents eventually circulate back to shore if you can stay afloat for a few minutes. This is still controversial, but it may be your best chance of survival if you are a weak swimmer.
7Swim diagonally toward the shore. Once you are out of the current, either because you have swum out the side or the current has carried you to its end, make your way back to shore. Swimming diagonally away from the rip current minimizes the chance that you will enter it again. You may be some distance from shore at this point, so stop and float periodically if you need to rest.