Monday, July 19, 2010

Response to Reported Missing Swimmer...

This summer has quickly proven to be incredibly busy for the Point Pleasant Beach First Aid Squad and its Dive Team. Over the long Fourth of July holiday weekend alone, we responded to nearly 100 emergency calls, many of which were heat- and/or beach-related. Off the beach, water temperatures have shot up over 10 degrees in the last two weeks, so it is suddenly very comfortable to be in the ocean (we normally don’t experience these water temperatures consistently until well-into August). Check out for satellite imagery of local sea surface temps.

Although we’ve been missing some dive time to help cover all the land-based first aid calls, we’ve managed a few dives in the warm water. Shark River Inlet, in Avon , is out of our normal coverage area, but is only accessible for diving from 5pm – 8am during the summer, so we took advantage of the opportunity to do night dives there the last two weekends.

On Friday, 7/10, the night dive session was a little challenging with a quick tide change and low visibility. Immediately upon exiting the water, we were notified that a call for a possible missing swimmer was in progress back in Point Pleasant . Assistant Chief Melo had assumed command of Beach Operations and was already on scene with Brandon, Tom T, and Paul, and a first aid crew. When the still-wet dive crew arrived, that added 5 more sets (Chet, Milton, Sue, Andy, and Dave) of eyes on the beach. Also present were the Ocean FDs #1 and #2 and the Point Pleasant Boro FD and FA. With very rough surf and no confirmed victim, we conducted our primary search from shore with lights. The USCG, State Police, and Budget Towing (captained by Tom Hurst and crewed by our divers Tom C and Doug) participated in the search off shore, taking great caution to stay out of the rough conditions by the beach. At some point, a white object which could have been a t-shirt was spotted, so two rescue swimmers were sent to make contact - Milton got a rough lesson in rough surf entries, but he wisely extracted himself, while Chief Nesley went out to the object; once there he could only describe debris and lots of sticky sea foam, which could have been mistaken for a solid object. The USCG vessel even deployed two flares to help illuminate the night surf, and we could still find no victim. Upon further communication, it was revealed that the original emergency call from a bystander did not clearly describe an actual human body in the surf, and at least one experienced fisherman relayed that ocean sunfish (Mola mola) had been spotted around Manasquan Inlet and close to shore earlier in the day. Based on direct observations and the fact that still no one had been reported missing, we determined that this was a false alarm.

The following day, the first aid calls (almost all on the beach and boardwalk) just kept piling up on top of each other, and ANOTHER dive call came in - boat on fire, people in water. Four rescue divers got fully suited-up for a surface rescue while bouncing around in the back of 347 in the time it took to drive to the call. What the crew didn't know was that the USCG canceled us on the way there, so when we jumped out the back of the truck on arrival, we were very surprised to discover that we'd been re-routed to a first aid call on the beach. (Unless someone in the cabin tells you, you really have no idea what's going on outside when you're in the back of the dive rescue truck.)

It's going to be a loooong summer....