Chilton County man drowns off Orange Beach (updated)

Published 9:38 am Thursday, June 12, 2014

A 20-year-old Chilton County man drowned in the waters off Orange Beach on Wednesday.

Orange Beach Fire and Rescue responded to a call at 3:21 p.m. Wednesday for a swimmer in distress off the Alabama Point East Beach access, just east of the Perdido Pass jetties, according to a press release.

Lifeguards and firefighters from three different stations responded.

Two jet skis were deployed in an attempt to find the victim, and Oasis Helicopter Tours provided aerial support by taking an Orange Beach firefighter up to assist in the rescue attempt.

The man was found 32 minutes into the rescue on a sandbar about 50 yards from shore.

Orange Beach Safety Director Melvin Shepard said the victim had been swimming with friends in waters estimated to be 5–7 feet deep.

The investigation suggested the victim was observed further out from the rest of the group, which determined that he was struggling and called Orange Beach Surf Rescue, according to the release.

“They tried to support him and pick him up and keep him above the water, but one of his friends said in doing so, they were getting pushed under the water and felt like they were drowning with him,” Shepard said. “The first lifeguard on scene got there within 3 minutes, but by that time, the young man had already submerged.”

Although Shepard said he didn’t think the victim was caught in a rip current, red flags were flying at the beach that day to warn people of strong currents and rough surf.

“It’s a very tragic accident,” Shepard said. “This young man’s family is in our thoughts and prayers.”

The victim’s family has been notified. At the request of the family, his name has not been released.

Shepard urged beachgoers to consider their swimming abilities and the conditions of the water before entering the water.

He also recommended checking to see if any warning flags are flying, taking the time to understand what the flags mean and asking lifeguards questions about beach conditions if they need more clarification.

“We strongly caution people, when they see someone struggling out in the Gulf, not to rush out to try to help them,” Shepard added. “Call 911, and then if you decide to go in, take something that floats – nothing that holds air, but something like a surfboard or boogie board that’s not going to pop or deflate.”

Shepard indicated that exercising caution while swimming is especially important since drowning happens faster than people think.

“A lot of people think drownings are these long, drawn-out processes, but they’re not,” he said. “You can drown in less than a minute.”