Lessons Learned From OC Tragedy
Sunday, June 17 was a beautiful day that turned into a nightmare for a few families and a major buzz kill and gruesome reality of life that took place on 33rd Street for all those who witnessed the drowning and search effort for the boy that lost his life this past weekend. After discussing the days tragic events with Ted Smith, a surfer/waterman that I trust my life with every time we surf the biggest, coldest waves the Atlantic can produce, we felt the need to write this letter. There are a few points I would like to bring up that could save lives or bring closure to a family’s grief and they cover what could have been done better last Sunday and prevent future drowning.
Before I go on, I have to say the Ocean City Beach Patrol (OCBP) did a good job and put forth a noble effort to recover the man.
The tide was still falling and the last little swell we had was an east with some north in it. There for a stationary object in the water column would have drifted to the southeast at about the speed of a slow crawl, going about 20 yards a minute. From where the guards first started diving for the boy, he would have been roughly 20 yards to the southeast from that spot one minute later. When I paddled out on my bodyboard, I estimated my time spent running one block and paddling out that the boy was 60 yards southeast of where the guards were diving. The hour I spent in the water looking for anything, any clue, a bubble, boil, shadow or anything put me roughly at 28th Street. Meanwhile the guards were still working the same area and even moving north for some reason. The OCBP’s hand-holding-line-technique is great for 4-feet deep water or less. To comb the outside, 6-12-feet deep water the OCBP could have used two extra long paddleboards with a dragnet to scour the water column and bottom. With this paddleboard and dragnet, the guards would have to practice dragging the net so they recognize something caught. The paddleboards are 18-feet long. The net is 4” mesh, 20 yards long by 4 yards tall. Weighted, bright colored and can be carried in-between two stacked paddleboards, folded properly and ready to go every 20 blocks, or on a trailer behind the crew chief’s ATV. The paddleboards also double as a backboard. The net will enable the OCBP to comb a larger area, quicker and more practically.
Next, the water in OC is cold. Even in July and August, there are cold patches that come through. The guards that were searching in the water were cold and not getting any warmer. I was getting cold and could only take an hour’s worth of searching. The guards need standard issue wetsuit tops – long sleeve or short sleeve. They pull on super fast and keep your core warm for hours. Plus some standard issue trunks, flippers, dive mask and snorkel. The 1989 windbreaker clingers that the guards have been sporting for years are not efficient and need to be replaced. It is 2007 and the technology is there for the taking; the OCBP needs to get with the times and step it up. Plus they make great waterproof radios now; semaphore is way to slow. Put all that aside; most importantly ocean knowledge, experience and ability are the most important tools all the guards need.
More guards in the water for a search. Even on paddleboards just looking. There were way too many guards standing on the beach watching. The helicopter didn’t search the right area, and was flying too low. 100-feet higher, hovering over 30th Street 300 yards out would have been the best option for a visual. The Coast Guard boat has a fish finder. I asked them and they said yes. I told them to go in to 7 feet of water just inside of the area, bow pointed east incase a wave came, take it straight on and keep looking. They didn’t listen and drove off. The DNR boat came by and I told them the same thing and they listened, sort of. They cruised slowly watching the fish finder, but not in the right area; but they probably had the best chance of finding him out of everyone searching. Neither the DNR nor Coast Guard had a diver getting ready on the boats. It doesn’t matter if you’re a diver or not, if you are in that line of work you should know how to find a body under water and use your knowledge of drift and tide patterns to narrow the search area down to a 30 yard by 30 yard block.
I want this letter to make the OCBP look at their operations and start getting funding now from the town of Ocean City for wetsuit tops, trunks, mask, paddleboards, dragnets, and more guards with better training. If the town of OC says no, the response from the OCBP should be: Is there a price on saving the life of you or one of your family members?
Thanks for taking the time to read this everyone.
I was recently interviewed regarding the impact which a major housing development in the Showell vicinity would bring to its current residents. I advised your reporter that a development of 1,000 new homes would cause significant impact upon the community. The most pressing issue with growth is the negative impact it presents to our environment. As I have expressed numerous times, I am opposed to direct discharge of effluent into our small creeks and tributaries. Water quality is key for our quality of life.
Additionally, as conditions exist today, public services including education, transportation/highways, and police protection could not accommodate the needs of the anticipated population which would come from such a development.
With specific regard to the Showell Volunteer Fire Company, it was never my intention to suggest that the services which they now provide to current residents in their service area was in any way inadequate. These men and women are well-trained professionals and they have state-of-the-art equipment, including two fire engines, one tanker, a medical assist vehicle (used for rescue calls) and a brush truck. There is also a process in place through a mutual aid agreement with other nearby Worcester County fire companies to dispatch additional personnel and equipment to assist them, should the need arise. With projected growth and added calls for service, our fire companies are always in need of additional funds for purchase of equipment, as well as volunteer personnel to render aide. The Showell Volunteer Fire Company serves their community with pride and deserve recognition for the outstanding job they do.
It is my feeling that development should pay for itself and contribute to the impact that additional homes would bring to the community. Public safety is just one of many concerns which must be dealt with when considering the impact of growth to this County and protection of our citizens is a top priority of mine.
P.S. I did meet with the SVFC on Monday evening June 11, regarding this matter.
(The writer is the County Commissioner for the Northern District.)
No To Municipality
The recurring issue of Ocean Pines becoming a Municipality has been debated and researched for decades. The bottom always comes out : "The Emperor has no clothes."
By adding an expensive paid level of Council and Manager to run the present police force and public works department and little else is no bargain. The amenities all belong to the property owners and cannot just pass on to the new authority without acquiescence of property owners and probably several law suits.
The pie-in-the-sky notion that O.P. would get grants from state or federal sources at the expense of far off unconnected taxpayers is too repugnant to boot.
Oleg N Dudkin
ALOC A Benefit
(The following letter was addressed to the Ocean City Mayor and Council with a copy forwarded to this office.)
We attended the City Council’s work session meeting at City Hall on June 12. It was an eye-opening experience.
We belong to the Art League of Ocean City (ALOC) whose members have volunteered hundreds of hours each year in support of the arts and other cultural activities around our area to benefit young and old enthusiasts alike. It was disheartening, to say the least, to hear a representative of a small group of area residents decry the decision made by the ALOC’s Board to eliminate renting space to local civic groups, one of which was that of the Little Salisbury Civic Association.
The decision to cease renting to outside groups was not made lightly, but was made so that the ALOC could continue to carry out its non-profit mission to provide art and other cultural educational activities to the Ocean City community in as unimpeded a manner possible given the small space currently available to it.
The council pointed out that meeting space would be available to the association in many other convenient locations, such as the new Ocean City library. In addition, space was offered from the floor by a forward-looking, conscientious Little Salisbury resident to accommodate the association.
The Little Salisbury Civic Association apparently feels affronted that the ALOC would want to devote its limited facilities, and the time, talent and energy of its volunteers exclusively to the endeavors for which ALOC was founded. The wide-ranging pursuits of the Art League such as student scholarships, prize-winning student and other art competitions and exhibits in cooperation with area schools, civic organizations such as the Optimists Club, the Woman’s Club of Ocean City and others that reach out to all areas of our great city was attacked by a small, self-serving, parochial group that would place its own interests above those of the greater majority. Its agenda appears designed to thwart the forward-looking cultural initiatives of the ALOC, a small, non-profit organization.
While the council must listen to opposing views, we commend it for focusing on the crux of the issue by voting, with two exceptions, for the renewal of the ALOC’s lease that will ensure the continued existence of the Art League of Ocean City, a recognized benefit, not only to the city’s residents but to the many visitors who vacation here each year.
George and Lois Hamaty