OCEAN CITY – Dangerous rip currents likely claimed the life of a Washington, D.C. man who went missing in the surf at night near 20th Street last Saturday and is presumed drowned.
Shortly after 8 p.m. last Saturday, the U.S. Coast Guard received a call about four swimmers in distress just off the beach at 20th Street. Coast Guard Ocean City launched two rescue boats and responded to the scene. By the time the Coast Guard arrived, off-duty Ocean City Beach Patrol officers with the help of a surfer had pulled three of the four victims safely from the ocean, but a fourth man, later identified as Melkis Del Gado, 23, of Washington, D.C. was still unaccounted for.
According to reports, a language barrier between the victims and their rescuers at first hindered the search for Del Gado, but soon lifeguards sprang into action and began a methodical search of the area, walking arm-in-arm through the water in an effort to locate the missing swimmer.
From the beach, Ocean City Police and Fire Department vehicles faced the ocean with their headlights on in an attempt to light up the churning water to no avail. Two Coast Guard rescue boats from Station Ocean City, along with a Maryland Natural Resources Police (NRP) rescue boat, searched the water, while a Coast Guard HH-Dolphin 65 helicopter from Air Station Atlantic City along with a Maryland State Police helicopter searched the water.
Vessels and helicopters continued to search throughout the night and most of the next day before the search was called off around 5 p.m. on Sunday. Ocean City spokeswoman Donna Abbott said on Wednesday the victim had not been recovered and is presumed drowned. It is believed Del Gado and the other victims got caught in a rip current while swimming at night and close to shore after the patrol had gone off duty.
Dangerous rip currents caused by the remnants of Hurricane Danielle, which passed far off the coast last Saturday, resulted in more than 250 rip current-related rescues during the day by members of the beach patrol.
While Hurricane Earl was expected to brush past the coast of Ocean City today at a fair distance from shore, Ocean City was reminding residents and visitors this week dangerous rip currents will likely be produced during and after the storm and urged swimmers to stay out of the water or swim if and only if the beach patrol is on duty.