The surf is expected to be rough for the rest of the week and swimmers should be extremely cautious.
JENNIE McKEON @JennieMnwfdn
NAVARRE BEACH — The good Samaritan who attempted to rescue a distressed 10-year-old swimmer Saturday night has died, according to a press release from Navarre Beach Fire Rescue.
According to the release, crews were dispatched to lifeguard tower 3 on Navarre Beach to assist three distressed swimmers around 6:14 p.m. A firefighter tried to get to the swimmers by riding a personal watercraft, but the rough surf did not allow it.
Alexander Julio, a Navarre Beach resident and avid swimmer, helped pull the 10-year-old out of the water. The firefighter on the personal watercraft rescued three additional swimmers who were in distress and unable to make it back to shore.
The good Samaritan, who has not been identified, was pulled unconscious from the water by Santa Rosa County Sheriff’s Office and Navarre Beach Fire Rescue. Deputies and firefighters administered CPR on the man before he was transported to Fort Walton Beach Medical Center.
On Monday, it was confirmed that the would-be rescuer had died, the release said.
Navarre Beach Fire Rescue Chief Danny Fureigh said it’s never easy to face those tragedies.
“Visitors and locals need to know the flag system,” he said. “Prevention is No. 1. Anytime we have a fatality it’s like a punch in the eye.”
On Saturday at Pensacola Beach, a Chipley man helped rescue a young girl from the water.
“I was there with my two daughters when I heard a little girl yelling for help,” Anthony Johnson said. “I told my kids to go back to the edge of the water and I went to the girl. She grabbed me like she was holding on for her dear life. I told her to stay calm.”
Johnson waded in the water with the girl, who was about 8 or 9, until lifeguards arrived. When the incident was over, Johnson said he felt good that he could help the girl. He also felt winded.
“The surf was strong that day,” he said. “It would make even an experienced swimmer nervous.”
It was a busy weekend for beach safety personnel with red flags flying across the Emerald Coast.
Sunday, in particular, kept lifeguards moving in Walton and Okaloosa counties.
“At the end of the day, we had nine full-blown EMS water rescues and 35 public assists,” said David Vaughan, beach safety director for South Walton Fire District. “That’s just the number of incidents, not people we assisted, which is more.”
Vaughan said it’s a “community effort” to try and keep the 26 miles of South Walton beaches safe. Lifeguards work in tandem with code enforcement, Walton County Sheriff’s Office and even locals to remind people to mind the flags.
Unfortunately, the message doesn’t always hit home.
“Sometimes, we rescue people twice in the same day,” said Joe D’Agostino, beach safety chief for Destin Fire Control District.
D’Agostino said Destin lifeguards work diligently to make contact with as many beachgoers as they can to try and prevent incidents. On Sunday, Destin lifeguards made contact with more than 3,200 people. There were three assists and one rescue of a man in his 40s who was caught in a rip current on his boogie board.
“We would’ve had a lot more than one rescue if we didn’t try to make those contacts,” he said. “I’d probably say 80 percent of the people we talk to are compliant.”
Okaloosa County Beach Safety Division Chief Rich Huffnagle said lifeguards had nine rescues in the Okaloosa Island area on Sunday.
The surf is expected to be rough for the rest of the week and swimmers should be extremely cautious. The safest bet is to not get in the water at all, Huffnagle said.
“There’s no sense in getting in trouble while you’re on vacation,” he said. “Once those rips get started, there’s very little time to mitigate that.”