Strong surf claims another swimmer on Pleasure Island

By: Crystal Cole/ Islander Editor
Posted 8/8/18

Sunday, August 5, at approximately 5:45 p.m., Orange Beach Police and Orange Beach Fire Rescue responded to a reported swimmer in distress near Perdido Pass. Upon arrival an individual was found out …

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Strong surf claims another swimmer on Pleasure Island

Posted

Sunday, August 5, at approximately 5:45 p.m., Orange Beach Police and Orange Beach Fire Rescue responded to a reported swimmer in distress near Perdido Pass. Upon arrival an individual was found out of the water and unresponsive. Medical aid was provided to the individual who was then transported to South Baldwin Regional Medical Center. Efforts to revive the swimmer were unsuccessful, and he was pronounced dead at the hospital.

The victim has been identified as Richard L. Coleman, a 53-year-old male from Jasper, Alabama.

Orange Beach Safety Chief Brett said the water has been deceptively calm lately.

“As far as this whole month has gone, the appearance of the Gulf has not been that intimidating,” Lesinger said. “It’s one to two-foot surf, but almost since August 1 we have been under a high rip current advisory. The water doesn’t look rough, but people get out in chest deep or more water and have a hard time getting back to shore.”

Due to increasingly rough surf conditions, the City of Orange Beach upgraded to red flags late Sunday afternoon.

Lesinger said Sunday was a strange day with an unusually high call volume.

“We had five calls for swimmers in distress that we responded to,” Lesinger said. “We rescued a total of 14 people out of the water. We had to assist another four people out of the water. We had three calls for a near drowning with the last one being a confirmed drowning. The amount of calls would be what we would have through a week-long span usually.”

Lifeguards in Orange Beach have been making more patrols up and down the beach and making more public contact, especially with small children, to explain the dangers of rip currents and the five-flag system utilized.

“It’s a hard thing for people to understand because they want to come on vacation and swim, but yet someone’s telling them that it’s not a good idea to swim,” Lesinger said.

According to the weather service rip currents have killed more people along the Alabama and northwest Florida coasts than hurricanes and tornadoes- and anything else- combined over the past 20 years.

Lesinger said Sunday the calls were coming in so fast that lifeguards would just be wrapping up a previous call or rescue and have to go right back out. For him and his team, educating vacationers and locals alike on beach safety is the most important goal.

“On a week to week basis, we’re trying to educate as many people as we possibly can,” Lesinger said. “It’s a constant battle for us. We’re trying to get the word out through our city website, through our Facebook page, in-person contact. We have beach education signs all up and down the beach. In fact, yesterday we had four identified rip currents that we had. At those rip currents we had little staked signs in place that tells you to swim parallel and don’t fight the current. Any time we have an identified rip current like that, we try to take our temporary sign to warn someone about to enter the water.”

To get updated, daily surf conditions, call 251-981-SURF (7873) and checkout orangebeachal.gov for beach flag information and more beach safety tips.