Authorities suspended their search Monday night for Khitan Devine, a 10-year-old boy who disappeared while swimming off Atlantic City.
Where Khitan went missing Sunday night is “the worst spot” on the Atlantic City beach, Fire Chief Dennis Brooks said.
“With that much current, all it took was a hole (in the sand),” he said.
As the multidepartment operation turned from rescue to recovery Monday, officials talked of the dangers of swimming in unprotected waters — especially the area of Sunday’s incident at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard beach.
Brooks said that stretch of sand between The Pier at Caesars and Central Pier has become the city’s most treacherous, a distinction that used to belong to the area north of Steel Pier.
Atlantic City Beach Patrol Chief Rod Aluise told The Press of Atlantic City in 2009 that the lifeguards’ busiest areas are near Garden Pier, Steel Pier, Central Pier and The Pier at Caesars. Hard structures in the water, such as jetties or piers, “tend to enhance rip currents. … And most rescues are generally rip-current-related,” he said.
“That's why it's always dangerous to bathe anywhere near an obstruction,” he said.
Khitan was swept away a day after two men were rescued after being swept out 150 yards at that same jetty by a rip current, Aluise said, although that happened when lifeguards were whistling swimmers out of the water at 6 p.m.
On the other side of The Pier is where Lou Rosso, of Egg Harbor Township, swam out after hours to a pair of drowning children in 2011 and tried to swim them to safety, before rescuers arrived and brought them to land.
None of the 851 rescues made by the Atlantic City Beach Patrol in 2011 and 1,367 rescues in 2010 resulted in deaths. Sunday’s incident took place after just 54 rescues had been made this year.
Around the nation, UPI reported, 24 people drowned during the course of the weekend.
Khitan, his younger sister and his father were all in the water just after 7 p.m. Sunday — about an hour after lifeguards went off duty — when they were all “swept over the rockpile” at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard beach, Brooks said. “The young male went down first.” Khitan was listed as having a Philadelphia address, though public records and other reports also list the family as living in North Carolina.
Atlantic City Police Sgt. Monica McMenamin said that police were the first into the water after the incident. The father and daugher were rescued. The girl, about 7, was rescued from the water by the Atlantic City Beach Patrol while holding onto the jetty, State Police Lt. Stephen Jones said, and Brooks added that she spent the night in the hospital with water in her lungs.
Crews searched the rockpile all morning in case the boy was “trapped” there like previous drowning victims, Brooks said.
The operation gradually picked up Monday morning after the initial search was called off Sunday night because of darkness, as Coast Guard crews aboard two boats and a Dolphin helicopter searched the waters while Atlantic City fire, rescue and police teams, and a Brigantine fire and dive team, entered the waters on boats and a personal watercraft.
A dive team Sunday night — only swimmers were available — may have led to the boy’s being found earlier, Brooks said. Instead, divers will be available to investigate any large object picked up by Coast Guard sonar.
Brooks estimated that it may be some time before recovery.
“The winds have picked up, and the tide’s running downbeach,” Brooks said. “The chances are … that it takes a couple of days for a body to come up to the surface.”
The boy’s family spent a mournful day watching the teams work, sitting at first on pipes as the morning began and later in chairs donated by vendors.
“We’re just waiting to see what happens,” said Eva Bryant, the boy’s step-grandmother. “Hopefully they’ll find his body. All we can do at this point is wait. The divers are doing everything they can.”
Onlookers on the beach on a hot, summerlike day said they were well aware of the dangers of rip currents and swimming in unprotected waters.
“Even when you’re a good swimmer, when you’re in a riptide it’s impossible to get out,” said Peter Diefenbach, visiting from Connecticut.
“It only takes a second,” added Michael Caravetta, also of Connecticut.
Lisa Davis of Rhode Island said that the city “needs to do better at putting signs up and making the public aware of riptides.”
Gail Brickley, of Mays Landing, worried about the potential discovery.
“One day a body’s going to wash up and the cops won’t be here to see it,” Brickley said. “Either another child will see it, or it will just disturb someone.”
As for herself, “I swam the last two days, but today I didn’t go in the water at all,” she said. “I don’t feel confident going in the water.”
Staff writers Emily Previti and Lynda Cohen contributed to this story.
Contact Steven Lemongello:
Follow Steven Lemongello on Twitter @SteveLemongello