Saturday Update: The body of Dominic Mone, the 21-year-old Orlando resident who went swimming with his brother just south of the Flagler Beach pier Friday morning, was found at the level of 14th Street North in Flagler Beach early Saturday morning. Rescue efforts, followed by recovery efforts, on Saturday had concentrated on areas south of the pier, as currents were pulling strongly in that direction.
Flagler Beach and Flagler County fire rescue personnel, including Flagler County’s Fire Flight helicopter, have been searching for a 21-year-old, feared to have drowned in the surf near the Flagler Beach pier this morning.
The man was with his brother when the pair walked into the surf at South 6th Street, Flagler County Fire Chief Don Petito said. The pair was struck by a big wave. The 21-year-old man was pulled down and never resurfaced.
“We can’t find anything,” Petito said. “They said it’s a pretty strong south current. They’re doing a grid search right now.”
There were no life-guards on duty at the time of the incident, but they were getting ready to go on duty–and heard one of the two men call for help. At least two lifeguards went into the water and were able to pull one of the brothers out, after he’d been swept under, but could not find the other man.
The two brothers are from the Orlando area, visiting locally.
The search launched shortly after 10 a.m. By 11:30 a.m., Fire Flight was circling as far south as Blue at the Topaz, the restaurant at the south end of Flagler Beach, as the current was pulling powerfully in that direction. By 12:15 p.m., the helicopter, which had burned a full tank of fuel by then, was circling in the area of Snack Jack’s, further south, still with no results. The Flagler County Sheriff’s Office’s boat was being called in.
The feared victim’s brother was near the pier at mid-morning. “I heard the chief say to the brother, is your brother a big boy, a big guy like you? because the guy is a big guy,” one witness who had been at the scene most of the morning said, referring to Flagler Beach Fire Chief Martin Roberts. “But very sad: there’s no sign of him anywhere.”
The surf has been deceptively calm. “but it’s deceiving, this is what’s always heartbreaking when we have tourists who come to visit, the surf is not rough but underneath, we the locals always know,” the witness said.
Tom Gillin, Flagler Beach’s ocean rescue director, who heads the city’s lifeguard service, said the surf conditions today are deceiving to people who are a danger to tourists who are not familiar with the surf. The waves are not big, so they don’t deter people from going into the water, yet the waves are not the indicator of danger, Gillin said. Invisible currents are. The beach has been red-flagged frequently this summer, and numerous swimmers have had to be rescued, though the last time a drowning took place in Flagler Beach proper, where lifeguards are on duty, goes back to 2006, and that case involved alcohol.
Flagler Beach’s lifeguards, Gillin said, go through their daily morning drills from 9:30 to (;45, and aren’t at their towers until 10 a.m. The two brothers went into the water at around 9:20, he said. When one of them called for help after being swept under, a lifeguard swam in and pulled him out, and at that point the man told him that he was with his brother, prompting another lifeguard to run into the water, Gillin said. But the older brother who was rescued was somewhat disoriented, and at first told rescuers that he’d gone in with his brother at South 8th Street. It was only when he saw his towels at 6th Street that he realized he’d been off by a couple of blocks.
By late morning, the search had moved well south of the pier. “He’s just standing on the pier now just kind of looking out in the water,” the witness said, describing the victim’s brother. “It’s not good, his brother has been missing for an hour and a half now. I can’t imagine what’s going through the guy’s mind.”
Roberts, the fire chief, said by noon that the operation was closer to a recovery effort rather than a rescue effort. Gillin was concurring by afternoon. But Gillin said there’d been cases in the past when swimmers have been feared drowned for hours, only for them to finally turn up. One such case involved Brian Oliver, then 45, the captain of a 22-foot sailing vessel, who was thrown overboard last September 6 off the Flagler coast, triggering a long search that was called off at night, with rescuers fearing the worst. But Oliver washed up at Cinnamon Beach at half past midnight, having held on to a cooler for more than 9 hours.
The 21-year-old man, however, is not a strong swimmer, his brother told rescuers, which is why the pair had gone into the surf together.
[This is a developing story.More information and images soon]