Though passing hundreds of miles north of the V.I., Hurricane Igor may have claimed a victim here Friday when big seas whipped up by the storm swept a 16-year-old boy from St. Croix out to sea.
A father and his son and daughter were swimming off Carambola when they became caught in a rip current, according to Coast Guard Public Information Officer Ricardo Castrodad. The father was able to get his daughter to shore, then went back to help his son but “was unable to get him,” Castrodad said.
The daughter called 911 from the shore. The 911 emergency center contacted the Coast Guard command center on Puerto Rico at 5:52 p.m. and a helicopter was dispatched, arriving on the scene at 6:47 p.m., according to Castrodad.
Also involved in the search was the V.I. Police Department’s rescue team, Blue Lightning.
Castrodad said the aerial search continued until about 10:30 p.m. before the helicopter had to return to base. He said the search will resume in the morning with both the helicopter and a fixed-wing aircraft piloted by a volunteer of the Coast Guard Auxiliary.
At the time of the 911 call, the Coast Guard was already involved in a similar search effort in Puerto Rico in which a young married couple was swept off the rocks by huge waves near Arecibo. The husband was able to get to shore, but his 18-year-old wife was still missing as of Friday night.
Both cases highlighted the importance of being cautious and staying away from the water while the heavy surf continues, Castrodad said.
“Do the smart thing,” he said. “Go to the beach and enjoy the weather but stay out of the water. It might look like great weather, but it’s very dangerous.”
On Friday morning the National Weather Service issued a coastal hazard message for the northern coastlines of the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. The message warned of “very dangerous surf conditions” as a result of the large, long-period swells resulting from the passage of Hurricane Igor.
“These long-period swells will continue to result in dangerous surf conditions with frequent life-threatening rip currents,” the message read.
"These narrow outward flowing currents can carry people and animals away from the coast line and out to sea,” the message continued. “If you become caught in a rip current do not panic. Calmly remain afloat. Gather your bearings relative to the beach and swim parallel to the beach. You will eventually leave the grip of those narrow currents and be able to swim to shore.”
The weather service urged local beach goers and inexperienced surfers and swimmers to stay out of the water until the conditions subside, probably late Saturday. It also advised people walking on the beach to watch for waves surging onto the beach. Such waves can sweep a person off the sand and into the sea without warning, the message said, adding that people should also stay off of rock formations.