Shortly after 7 pm on Saturday, July 17, 2010, while we were still cleaning up from the Wooden Boat Festival, an emergency call came in for a submerged swimmer right off Manasquan Inlet jetty. (The normal lifeguard crew is off the beach by 5:30 pm, and red flags had been posted on the beach, but with such a hot day, hundreds of people were still in and near the water at the time of the incident.) As it had been a busy day, many squad members were already at the squad building and immediately responded to Jenkinson's Beach at its closest access point. First Aid Captain Jerry Meany, a first aid crew, and a dive crew got on scene within 4-5 minutes (the time it takes to get across town) and discovered one man being assisted out of the rocks by a Jenkinson's security officer and bystander. The crowd indicated that a second man had gone down right off the south tip of the jetty minutes before.
Sue had responded to the beach in exposure suit, mask, fins, and snorkel, so she surface swam to the point of last contact and searched the outside of the jetty. With several breathhold dives, she also dipped down to look for the victim, but with ZERO vis and heavy surge, all she could do was feel the bottom and avoid getting smashed into the jetty herself. Within a few more minutes, Chet and Tom C also made it to the beach in full scuba gear and entered to conduct a more thorough search at the base of the rocks and concrete. They had no more success than the surface swimmer and found themselves totally enveloped in sea lettuce and in even more risk of being swept with the surge into the jetty. One of them described the experience as "being in a washing machine" and one of the worst dives he's ever had to do.
In the meantime, several first aiders and volunteer fire fighters were also posted around the jetty to help with spotting. The US Coast Guard, State Police, Point Pleasant Boro FD, and Budget Towing also had boats on the water to provide eyes and possible assistance from offshore. With increasing surf and surge and fading light, we pulled our divers from the water, and the USCG helicopter conducted a search with a thermal imaging camera, with negative results. Deteriorating water conditions and darkness led all parties to suspend the search for the night by 9:30 pm.
We returned to the beach Sunday morning to resume our in-water search under better conditions, recognizing that this had become a recovery operation. Our Rescue 34 boat (Doug, Paul, Tom T, and Tom C) and the private vessel of one of our first aid squad members (Jonathan, with Megan and Tom G) ran patterns up and down the beach to look for the victim from the surface. Simultaneously, two divers repeated last night's search of the tip of the jetty, but the sea lettuce and low tide surge still resulted in this pattern being conducted solely by feel. Due to the still-dangerous conditions, these divers exited the water.
In the meantime, the State Police returned with their boat and ran a pattern using side scan sonar. By mid-tide, water conditions and visibility had improved significantly, so we sent another three divers back in. Chet was finally able to conduct a systematic check of all the crevices around the tip of the jetty. Sue and Milton drifted with the incoming tide around the jetty tip and into the inlet proper to to investigate potential snag locations. After over an hour of searching with negative results, the search was called off until further sightings or information becomes available.
Our condolences go out to the family of the victim.
Asbury Park Press article
UPDATE: On Friday, July 23, 2010, the victim's body was spotted floating about one mile offshore outside of Manasquan Inlet and subsequently recovered by United States Coast Guard Station Manasquan.