BELMAR — A Lake Hopatcong man was pronounced dead Monday afternoon after being pulled from the water by Belmar lifeguards in a response triggered by calls that bystanders were attempting to aid several swimmers in distress off the 8th Ave. jetty, authorities said.
The victim, who was later identified as 24-year-old Fernando Perez, was found at approximately 1:22 p.m. He was transported to Jersey Shore University Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead, police said.
Weekday coverage of Belmar beaches does not begin until tomorrow, June 17. Chief Lifeguard Harry Harsin, along with eight of his lifeguards, rushed to the scene from their 10th Avenue headquarters after receiving the initial call at approximately 12:30 p.m.
Chief Harsin said that they found about 10 struggling swimmers near the jetty and rescued them promptly. One swimmer who was “semi-conscious” and was transported to Jersey Shore Medical Center for treatment, the chief said.
“There was roughly 10 people in the water out by the jetty… we got them all in,” Chief Harsin said. “Everyone seemed to be OK, except one male … we transported him right up to the boardwalk to an awaiting ambulance.”
“We were trying to ascertain whether there were any more victims, whether anybody else was still in the water,” he said. A bystander on the beach helped by translating exchanges between the lifeguards and the swimmers, who were not speaking English, the chief said.
“We found out that somebody else was still in the water, then we redeployed back into the water with … kayaks, jet skis and we called for some additional assistance just in case we needed it,” Chief Harsin said. It was then that they found Mr. Perez.
According to police and media reports, this is the fifth drowning this season on the Jersey Shore, with three of them taking place in Wildwood within the last three weeks. Additionally, a woman drowned in Island Beach State Park on the same day as the Belmar drowning.
Prior to the start of weekday lifeguard coverage, Chief Harsin said that he keeps a “skeleton crew” on duty at headquarters on 10th Avenue, to prepare necessary equipment. On Monday afternoon, there was a lifeguard crew of about eight there, doing “prep-work,” he said.
“What I do [on weekdays] is I call the police headquarters in the morning, and I tell them that I have a skeleton crew … and if there’s any distress calls on the radio, we can respond … which is what happened.” the chief told The Coast Star.
According to the National Weather Service, the rip current risk on Monday afternoon was “low.” However, the National Weather Service warned: “The risk for rip currents is low, however life-threatening rip currents often occur in the vicinity of groins, jetties, reefs and piers.”
While the investigation is still ongoing, Chief Harsin believes the tragedy was due to “a nonswimmer in the ocean at an unguarded beach.”
The first victim who was first transported to Jersey Shore University Medical Center was still in the ICU as of Tuesday morning, according to Chief Harsin. He added that the patient in the ICU and the deceased man are brothers.
A statement issued by Belmar police reads: “The Belmar Police Department, Belmar Lifeguards, Belmar Water Rescue Team Belmar EMS, Neptune Answer Team, Neptune Drone Unit and Marine Unit, Manasquan Fire Department Marine Unit, Sea Girt Lifeguards, Monmouth County Fire Marshal Office, New Jersey State Police and U.S. Coast Guard all assisted”in the investigation, which they said was ongoing.
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