After big wave slams into him just feet from shore,  he fails to return to surface

(Aug. 30, 2019) A 76-year-old man from New York was pronounced dead at Atlantic General Hospital after being struck by a large wave in knee-deep water on Sunday.

Knocked over on 21st Street at 5:05 p.m., the victim, who was not identified by Ocean City authorities, did not resurface and was located by Ocean City Beach Patrol personnel in the 16th Street area. Emergency responders administrated CPR and transported him to the hospital.


Capt. Butch Arbin

“Despite the best efforts by our first responders, this was a terrible tragedy for this family and our thoughts and prayers are with them during this very difficult time,” said Jessica Waters, communications manager for the town of Ocean City.

Strong winds led to turbulent waves over the weekend, requiring surf rescue technicians from the Ocean City Beach Patrol to restrict swimmers from going more than knee-deep in the water.

“August and September are traditionally our large surf months, producing larger waves, rip currents and shore breaks,” Kristin Joson, Ocean City Beach Patrol public education coordinator, said. “To complicate matters, this is also the time of year that Ocean City experiences an increase in the volume and size of waves due to tropical activity in the Atlantic.”

Just last weekend alone saw 40 rescues, according to Lt. Ward Kovacs. Of those rescues, 34 took place on Saturday and six on Sunday.

With the height of hurricane season approaching, the Beach Patrol is encouraging beachgoers to listen to its daily lectures and advisories on surf conditions.

In the meantime, the Beach Patrol is undergoing its post-season transitions, as many lifeguards return to school as college students or teachers.

“This is the time of the year when our surf rescue technician numbers start shrinking, but thanks to Gov. Hogan’s decision to have Maryland Public Schools start students after Labor Day, we have been able to retain our teachers for an additional one or two weeks longer,” Joson said. “Unfortunately, due to action this past year by the legislature, this is probably the last season we will have our most experienced staff this late into August.”

At the beginning of the summer, the Beach Patrol had 91 stands across Ocean City’s 10 miles of beach, but now those numbers have dwindled to 28, according to Capt. Butch Arbin.

“The kids come back two weeks before Labor Day and the teachers a week before that,” Arbin said. “Potentially, we're going to lose some of our educators three weeks before Labor Day next year. This year it's only one week, but that, combined with college start date, it just decimates [our numbers]. Normally in the summer between all of our staff, we might have 160 available to work on the beach. As of Monday, we're going to have 36 people available to work on the beach compared to 160.”

These 36 people will be split between 28 stands with a much larger distance between stations. During the summer, the distance between stands is estimated to be about 190 yards. After Labor Day, the distance increases to almost a half-mile apart.

To make up for the shortage of surf rescue technicians, area supervisors will travel throughout the beach on four-wheelers to back up the guards in the event of an emergency.

Arbin asked the public to make the guards’ jobs easier by always swimming in their line of sight.

“We still maintain 10 miles of beach, seven days a week, 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.,” Arbin said. “But we really need the public's help by making sure they are going to swim in front of a guard.”

Arbin also asked that people not try to assist in rescues, because often, they end up needing to be rescued themselves and the guards will already be occupied with the first rescue.

The Ocean City Beach Patrol will remain on the beaches until after Sunfest, which ends this year on Sept. 22.

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