OCEAN CITY — One young woman remains in critical condition and two others have reportedly been treated and released after an incident last Friday when they went into the ocean after being advised not to by the Ocean City Beach Patrol and were rescued by a pair of private citizens and a veteran lifeguard.
Around 6 p.m. last Friday, Ocean City Communications received a call regarding swimmers in distress in the ocean around 90th Street. As Ocean City police officers arrived on the scene, a water rescue was in progress with three female victims being pulled from the water by beachgoers and Ocean City Beach Patrol (OCBP) Lieutenant Ward Kovacs, who told the victims earlier not to go back in the ocean because of dangerous rip currents.
Witnesses told police the OCBP had instructed the three female swimmers, a 21-year-old from Bowie, Md. a 19-year-old from Woodstock, Md., and a 20-year-old from Silver Spring, Md., to leave the water around 10 minutes before the incident occurred. Because of the rough conditions and the prevailing rip currents, OCBP SRTs remained on their stands longer than usual last Friday, a day on which they had already made 191 rescues.
The lifeguards manning stands verbally warned swimmers up and down the beach not to go back into the water before they signed off. However, OCBP officers on ATVs continued to roam up and down the beach warning swimmers not to go back into the ocean when the guards left their stands. Lieutenant Skip Lee covered the area from the Inlet to 27th Street, while Kovacs roamed the middle and north ends of the beach.
Kovacs had just warned the three unidentified females at 90th Street and was in the area of 93rd Street when he heard a 911 call reporting swimmers in distress nearby.
According to OCBP Captain Butch Arbin, when Kovacs arrived on the scene, he saw one female already lying on the beach and a second being carried out by a pair of private citizens. Witnesses told Kovacs there was a third female swimmer still in the ocean and in distress.
The two private citizens being called heroes this week were identified as Christopher Bourdeau, 39, of Vienna, Va., and Robert Miller, 43, of Falls Church, Va. The men reportedly entered the water to help the distressed swimmers. Bourdeau and Miller rescued one of the swimmers and got her safely back to shore and went back in the ocean to assist the second swimmer. As Miller and Bourdeau were assisting the second swimmer, Kovacs arrived on the scene and rescued the third victim, reportedly at least 40 yards off shore.
“When Ward saw her, he knew she was in trouble,” said Arbin. “Right before a person drowns, they don’t have the energy to call for help or even wave their arms. He knew she was in trouble and he only had a few seconds before she slipped below the surface.”
Arbin said this week had Kovacs not gotten to the third victim when he did, it could have been a tragedy.
“Had Ward not been there, that girl was in her last seconds and we would have been talking about a search and recovery and not a rescue,” he said. “We keep hammering home the message about not swimming when the guards aren’t in the stands, but these things keep reoccurring. It’s frustrating because it’s so preventable.”
The third victim went into full cardiac arrest at the time of the incident and was still listed in critical condition as of mid-week. The other two victims were transported to Atlantic General Hospital following their rescues and were treated and released.
Arbin said the OCBP’s regular protocol is to clear the water of swimmers when the guards go off duty, but especially on a day like last Friday when 191 rescues were recorded. Private citizens often choose to ignore the OCBP’s requests to get out of the ocean for a variety of reasons or leave the beach during a storm with lightning, but the OCBP now has greater authority.
During a recent discussion about updating the town code after a debate about the growing size of allowable body boards, changes were made in the code to make it against the law to ignore the OCBP’s orders.
“Now, if the Beach Patrol says get out of the ocean, it’s against the law to ignore the order,” said Arbin this week. “It’s the same thing with lightning. If we tell people to get off the beach because of a lightning threat, it’s against the law for them to ignore that order.”
In a similar wording to law enforcement descriptions, the code specifically cites where all citizens are to follow the instructions of the OCBP when it comes to the beach and ocean.