Three Alabama men drown at a Florida beach after getting caught in rip current

Three Alabama men drown at a Florida beach after getting caught in rip current

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Three men drowned while swimming at a Florida beach on Friday after getting caught in a rip current, adding to a deadly week of swimming incidents along the East Coast and in the South.

The Bay County Sheriff’s Office identified the three men on Saturday as 24-year-old Harold Denzel Hunter, 25-year-old Jemonda Ray and 24-year-old Marius Richardson from Birmingham, Alabama.

The three arrived with friends in Bay County on Friday evening and “checked into their rental and rushed out to get into the water,” Sheriff Tommy Ford said. The men were caught in a rip current around 8 p.m.

Ford said his office received a call reporting three distressed swimmers on Friday night and his office responded with the U.S. Coast Guard, Bay County Emergency Services and other agencies to locate them.

First responders attempted their search and rescue for more than two hours, Ford said. Once the men had been pulled out of the Gulf of Mexico, they received medical care. On Saturday, Ford announced that all three men had died at local hospitals.

“I have such a heavy heart this morning about the loss of three young visitors to our community,” Ford said in a statement. “I witnessed so many people, including visitors to our community, come together last night on the beach to desperately search for them.”

After the individuals were located, the U.S. Coast Guard’s Panama City station urged locals and visitors to exercise caution in the Gulf waters, as “rip currents pop up unexpectedly and can happen on even the nicest days.”

As of Saturday morning, the National Weather Service’s rip current risk forecast for Florida’s Gulf beaches remained high, citing “life-threatening rip currents” and a 2-foot surf that is “dangerous for all levels of swimmers.”

The incident comes at a time of heightened awareness around beach safety. A Pennsylvania couple drowned at Stuart Beach on Florida’s Hutchinson Island on Thursday after getting caught in a rip current, and two teenagers went missing at Jacob Riis Park in Queens, New York, on Friday after a large wave overtook them.

The U.S. Coast Guard announced Saturday that it suspended its operation looking for the missing teens after searching more than 600 square miles off of New Jersey and New York.

“The decision to suspend a search is always difficult and weighs heavily on all involved,” said Jonathan Andrechik, commander of the Coast Guard’s New York sector. “Our crews, along with our partner agencies, have conducted an exhaustive search.”

As of June 9, the National Weather Service has counted at least 11 fatalities as a result of rip currents.

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