OCEAN CITY — The unseasonably warm weather has been both a blessing and a curse in and around the resort area as mild air temperatures and the inviting ocean resulted in two drowning deaths at Assateague on Sunday and dozens of rescues in Ocean City over the weekend.
Two people drowned in separate incidents on Assateague on Sunday in the area of the state park after getting caught in rip currents. Over in Ocean City, the Ocean City Beach Patrol’s skeleton crew still manning the beach via ATVs along with Ocean City emergency services rescued many, including one victim who was resuscitated with CPR.
With sunny skies and temperatures topping out in the 80s over the last week, the beach and ocean have remained inviting to swimmers heading into the second week of October.
Around 2 p.m. on Sunday, a Virginia man was swimming in the ocean at Assateague State Park in the area of the campground when he was caught in a rip current. According to reports, a surfer in the area assisted the victim. The 57-year-old victim was brought to shore and transported to Atlantic General Hospital where he was pronounced deceased.
Around 6 p.m. on Sunday, an 18-year-old Pennsylvania man was swimming in the ocean with a friend at the Assateague State Park in the area near the campground when he was caught in a rip current. The friend reportedly lost sight of the victim and called park officials. Lifeguards brought the victim to shore and he was transported to AGH where he was pronounced deceased.
Over in Ocean City on Sunday, a similar situation was unfolding with a better outcome. Around 11:30 a.m., the Ocean City Beach Patrol was alerted to a swimmer in distress at 128th Street and guards still patrolling the beach on ATVs quickly responded. According to OCBP Lieutenant Ward Kovacs, Surf Rescue Technician David Krabbe arrived on the scene on an ATV just as the victim went passive.
Kovacs said Krabbe brought the victim to shore using the cross-chest technique and he and another SRT initiated CPR and deployed an AED. The Ocean City Fire Department arrived on scene and worked on the victim on shore before transporting him to the hospital.
“The resuscitation efforts were successful,” said Kovacs. “Lifeguards also made several other rescues yesterday in Ocean City. It is important to note that the beaches are no longer guarded. We only have SRTs on ATVs that can respond to calls for distressed swimmers. People should not be in the water.”
OCBP Captain Butch Arbin provided more details about the incident requiring CPR and the near-miss. Arbin said after Monday, the only available 911 response for a distressed swimmer will come from the Ocean City Fire Department.
“Between Saturday and Sunday this past weekend, we made dozens of rescues that were never called into 911 as well as responding to several that were initiated by a 911 call,” he said. “The incident that involved CPR was a 911 call by several people who originally thought the man was playing or pointing to a pod of dolphins.”
Arbin said Krabbe and other SRTs patrolling the beach on ATVs responded quickly to the 911 call and reached the victim just in time.
“At the time of the 911 call, our mobile rescue units were a mile-and-a-half south of 128th Street and upon arriving on the scene were able to get to the victim while he was still conscious, but he shortly thereafter went unconscious as SRT Krabbe was pulling him in. Had we not arrived when we did, the outcome may not have been positive. Resuscitation in simple drowning situations is highly effective in the first minute.”
While balmy temperatures and pleasant beach conditions are expected to linger through the early part of the week, the weather is predicted to return to normal October conditions by the weekend. In the meantime, Arbin reminded residents and visitors to enjoy the beach, but to stay out of the water. He also offered advice for individuals who observe swimmers in distress.
“People should call 911 and remain on the scene and use landmarks to mark the location in case the person submerges,” he said. “Under no circumstances should they attempt a swimming rescue. Statistics show that over 70 percent of people who attempt to help also become victims.”
While Arbin is largely back at his job with the Charles County public school system this time of year, he was back in Ocean City over the weekend manning the beach with his core staff.
“I am only working weekends this time of year, but drove the entire beach Saturday afternoon and remained out there until after dark,” he said. “I was amazed at the number of children who were swimming as their parents sat on the beach. This is a recipe for a tragedy. Our message this time of year is enjoy everything else that Ocean City has to offer, but stay out of the water until the beach patrol returns in May 2019. The day we take our guards off the beach, we rush to remove all stands so that there is no question that there are no lifeguards.”