Bystander, drone aid A.C. water rescues

{child_byline}MOLLY BILINSKI

Staff Writer

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ATLANTIC CITY — In separate water rescues over the past two days, firefighters used a drone to save two kayakers stranded in a marsh at low tide and a good Samaritan braved an ocean rip current to keep a Philadelphia man afloat while waiting for rescue.

About 4 p.m. Wednesday, firefighters responded to a call that two children were stuck in the marsh between the resort and Ventnor, fire Chief Scott Evans said. While the department’s Rescue Company prepared water rescue boats and stretchers, its Training Division flew a drone over the area.

“With the drone, we were able to quickly identify that they weren’t kids,” Evans said, adding it was the first time the department has used the drone. “They were women and they had covered themselves in mud to stop the green heads from biting them.”

The unidentified women, ages 72 and 74, both of Ventnor, were dehydrated and had visible signs of heat exhaustion when they were pulled from the marsh by firefighters, he said. They were treated at the scene and released.

The women were kayaking in the bay by Newton Avenue and decided to paddle down a creek that flows through the marsh, Evans said. But the tide went out faster than they could turn around.

“Their kayak got stuck and they couldn’t get out, so they decided to get out and walk out,” he said. “Then they realized they can’t walk in that stuff.”

State and Ventnor police also responded.

The next day, a local man helped save a swimmer who got stuck in a current far from the shore, Evans said.

About 8 p.m., firefighters responded to the beach at Caspian Avenue for a report of a man drowning and another man who went into the water to help him, Evans said. The beach was crowded with about 200 people there to watch the Fourth of July fireworks, and lifeguards were no longer on duty.

Justin Freeman swam out into the waves to try to help the man, who was in his mid-40s but not identified by fire officials.

“I live out there, so I know how that current gets,” said Freeman, 34, of Atlantic City. “I saw the guy, and it looked like he was struggling.”

Heat, warm water and breaks in the sandbar all contribute to the risk for rip currents, according to the National Weather Service. Between 1998 and the end of September 2017, there were 47 rip-current fatalities in the weather service’s Mount Holly coverage area, which includes Atlantic and Cape May counties.

The first time Freeman went to help, the man waved him off, telling Freeman he was fine, he said. Then Freeman saw the man’s son on the beach, who said his dad needed help.

“I grabbed the boogie board and swam out to the guy,” Freeman said, “and got him afloat and tried to get him to the jetty.”

By the time the pair got close to the jetty, firefighters had arrived at the beach. Others on the beach tried to help, tying beach towels together to form a rope to pull the two men in, Freeman said, while others watched and about 60 people recorded the incident on cellphones.

Evans said the man was swimming about 75 yards from the beach and rescue swimmer and firefighter Richard Dicioccio and firefighter Patrick Cooke brought him back on a rescue board.

“We got to give a lot of credit to (Freeman),” Evans said. “The guy might not be alive today if the bystander hadn’t kept him afloat with his boogie board until we could get there.”

The man was taken to AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center, City Campus, for treatment.

“It’s really just, know your limits. You have to pay attention to the water,” Freeman said. “To me, it was letting people know that there are still good people out here and hopefully people watching saw and they won’t hesitate to help people next time.”

The Coast Guard also responded.

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Contact: 609-272-7241 mbilinski@pressofac.com Twitter @ACPressMollyB

Staff Writer

My beat is public safety, following police and crime. I started in January 2018 here at the Press covering Egg Harbor and Galloway townships. Before that, I worked at the Reading Eagle in Reading, Pa., covering crime and writing obituaries.

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