Four swimmers were rescued from the ocean off of Second Avenue beach this evening and a fifth is missing after he entered the water in an attempt to rescue his younger sister, officials have said.
The victims entered the water just after the lifeguards left the beach around 5 p.m., head lifeguard Joe Bongiovanni said. Bongiovanni did a sweep of the beach after the guards left and, seeing no one in the water, retired to his office to lock it up, he said.
At 5:15 p.m., he heard sirens and rushed to the beach. He entered the water at Second Avenue and first found two young men and a young girl who were exhausted from being caught in a rip tide. He handed them his torpedo — the red piece of lifeguarding equipment with a bullet-like shape and handles on both sides — and they used it to stay afloat, he said.
He and the three victims were 50 to 100 yards away from the shoreline when he saw a young girl in distress another 20 to 30 yards out, he said. He told her to lay flat on her back while he came to get her.
By this time, Patty Landers, another lifeguard who had heard the commotion while she was leaving work for the day, had returned to the beach and entered the water, Bongiovanni said. She swam toward the young girl and the two were picked up by a private boat after Landers flagged it down, Bongiovanni said.
A member of the Asbury Park Fire Department paddled out into the water on a rescue board and pulled Bongiovanni and the two male victims in, Bongiovanni said.
Then, while Bongiovanni and Landers were interviewing the girl, she told them she had seen her brother enter the water in an attempt to rescue her, but that he had disappeared, Bongiovanni said. Her other brother, who had been on the beach as well, said he saw the same thing.
When officials learned there was a fourth victim who was still missing, they called in the regional ANSWER [Area Network of Shore Water Emergency Responders] team and the United States Coast Guard, who were still searching for the young man several hours later. The search will re-commence at 8 a.m. tomorrow, Bongiovanni said.
Tonight, officials used everything from traditional lifeguard equipment to jet skis and boats to try and recover the missing fourth swimmer. Tomorrow morning, they will also employ the help of technology known as side scan sonar, fire department battalion chief Nick Marino said. Side scan sonar sweeps the bottom of the ocean searching for figures that could be swimmers, Marino said. If the sonar detects anything, divers jump into the water and see if the object is a drowning victim.
The young female victim and her other brother who had remained on the beach were reunited at the police station, Bongiovanni said. It was unclear to officials at the beach what the relationship of the other two young men in the water was to them, if any.
Bongiovanni said it was likely those two had also entered the water in an attempt to rescue the girl.
“This wouldn’t have happened” if lifeguards were on duty, Bongiovanni said. “We would have prevented it.”
For someone who can’t swim, sitting on the beach while someone is drowning rather than jumping in and trying to save them is “a frustrating thing,” Bongiovanni said. “But if you go in, you can become the second victim.”
Water was slightly rougher than usual today but the tide changed late in the day, Bongiovanni said — and there were no saves on the beach today while the lifeguards were on duty.
When the lifeguards feel the water is threatening, they stay on duty past their usual 5 p.m. cutoff time, Bongiovanni said. This past weekend, for example, lifeguards stayed until 7 p.m. on both Saturday and Sunday because the water was rough, he said.
[Update: A previous edition of this story stated there were three swimmers rescued, rather than four.]