Midnight swimmer rescued in Beaufort River

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A 39-year-old North Carolina man is alive today because of a concentrated multi-agency Beaufort rescue that saved him from drowning in the Beaufort River around midnight last Thursday.

The victim apparently entered the Beaufort River for a midnight swim near the Pigeon Point boat landing but may have misjudged the tide and current and quickly found himself in trouble, Beaufort Fire Chief Sammy Negron said Friday.

The rescue required assistance from the Beaufort Fire Department, Lady’s Island-St. Helena Fire Department with a Jet Ski, Beaufort County EMS, SC Department of Natural Resources, the Coast Guard helicopter out of Savannah, Beaufort Police including an officer with his personal boat, and a good Samaritan at the Downtown Marina.

As investigators have pieced it together so far, the man and his family were visiting Beaufort and decided to enjoy a late night on the waterfront. Near midnight, the man decided to go swimming. When he tired and found himself fighting the tide and current, his female companion — who didn’t have a cell phone, firefighters said — drove their car and reported the situation to a nearby Beaufort police officer.

As emergency responders arrived in the area, several could hear the victim in the water. Requests were made Marine Rescue, DNR and the Coast Guard to launch their water- and air-based rescue resources, Negron said.

“We weren’t sure where the victim was in the river, which was he was moving, or which side of the river would be closest to him,” Negron said. “We needed everyone’s help.”

About that time, a 911 call came in from a resident at Marsh Harbor on Lady’s Island, reporting a victim in the water. Officers on the shoreline in downtown Beaufort said the victim was still alive and seemed to be moving with the current toward the Woods Memorial Bridge.

When rescuers finally saw the man, he was holding onto a concrete piling on the Lady’s Island side of the swing bridge, Negron said. The Jet Ski, DNR boat and a personal boat belonging to a man at the Downtown Marina all launched.

When they reached the man, he was too tired to put on the offered personal flotation device, but was able to hold onto it. Moments later, Negron said, the man lost his grip on the piling and floated away — fortunately, still holding onto the life jacket that was attached by rope to the rescuers.

As the Coast Guard helicopter arrived on scene, the man was pulled into the S.C. Department of Natural Resources’ boat.  Beaufort County EMS transported the victim to Beaufort Memorial Hospital for treatment.

“This was a dangerous situation for the man in the water, and it became a major effort by several cooperating agencies to locate him in the dark, in the moving river, and to engage a rescue operation,” Negron said. “Fortunately, the man survived, but we discourage anyone from swimming in our local waters after dark because of the current and tides, underwater obstacles that can snag an unsuspecting swimmer and other good reasons.”