Ocean City Today

Two days, 318 rescues made

After-hours swimmer drowns, other cases could involve drinking
By Katie Tabeling | Aug 03, 2017
Photo by: Greg Ellison

(Aug. 4, 2017) One person drowned and hundreds of people had to be rescued by the Ocean City Beach Patrol this week, after strong northeast winds over the weekend created a multitude of treacherous rip currents in what had been a relatively peaceful ocean.

“This is the time of year we see this, because of the storm activity. Even if a tropical storm is hundreds of miles away, it can cause rip currents like we’ve been seeing this week,” Beach Patrol Capt. Butch Arbin said.

Lifeguards made 194 water rescues on Monday alone. One fatality also was reported, after Timothy Thomson, 35, of Prince George, Virginia drowned in the waters near First Street around 7:20 p.m.

The Beach Patrol made another 124 rescues on Tuesday, and around 6:30 a.m. on Wednesday, the Ocean City Fire Department responded to a call about four swimmers in distress near North Division Street after one of their party made it back to shore and called 911.

Fire department rescue swimmers brought two people to shore. During the rescue, one victim, a 22-year-old J-1 student from Ireland started suffering from cardiac arrest. The student was immediately given CPR, then taken to Atlantic General Hospital in serious condition.

Drinking is believed to have been a factor, Arbin said.

As for the volume of rescues this week, Arbin said two issues were at work: people swimming after hours and Saturday’s storm churning up the waters.

“The storm has reconfigured the ocean’s bottom, which created large sandbars. As waves come across the sandbars, water deposits in the trough. The water needs to come out, so it’s finding a way out quickly – and that creates a rip current,” he said. “And rip currents can move as fast as Michael Phelps.” Phelp’s top speed was 6 mph.

If swimmers notice themselves drifting father down the beach and make little progress swimming back to shore, they probably are caught in a rip current. These fast-moving currents do not drag swimmers underwater, but drain stamina.

“It’s like you’re on a treadmill and it doesn’t stop. So, you get tired, you’re not physically able to swim and you go under,” Arbin said.

He added that Thomson probably got pushed to deeper water and trapped in a rip current on Monday evening. When surf technicians arrived, they performed rescue dives for 15 minutes before finding Thomson. He was declared dead at Atlantic General Hospital within the hour.

There’s a way to escape a rip current before it becomes deadly: turn sideways to the current and swim parallel to the shore.

“Like a treadmill, the solution is to jump off the side,” Arbin said. “If you have a flotation device, hold onto it. You can stay in the water for hours, and then you can be helped.”

Visitors are reminded to only swim when there’s lifeguards in the stands from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Thomson, like the three that were rescued on Wednesday, were swimming after lifeguards went off duty. The Beach Patrol also reportedly told people to leave the waters 15 minutes before their shift ended on Monday because the surf was so rough.

Arbin said mobile crews were out this week during off-hours to make emergency rescues if needed.

“We divided the beach up into quadrants and had one mobile crew patrol each of them,” Arbin said. “Crews had one driver and one surf technician, and they have everything they need to conduct a rescue there. Four mobile crews can’t cover the whole beach, and we do have fire rescue divers, but this helps us save precious time if something happens.”

On Tuesday, 10 of the 124 rescues were made during off-hours.

“Never swim when a lifeguard is not on duty,” he said. “In my 45 years here, 95 percent of drownings occurred when Beach Patrol was not on duty. Check with lifeguards on the beach to see how the surf is.”

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