3 drownings, almost 150 rescues on Brevard beaches since Thanksgiving, officials say

Rescuers pulled 17-year-old girl, 56-year-old woman, man in his 50s from water

BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. – Brevard County has seen almost 150 rescues, including three drownings in the past week, on its beaches since Thanksgiving, ocean rescue said in a Thursday briefing.

Brevard County Ocean Rescue Chief Eisen Witcher said his team typically sees 400-450 rescues a year, adding these extra rescues and drownings are due to a combination of factors, including recent hurricanes and a developing tropical system, overpopulation, warm weather and a swimmer’s own abilities.

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The increase in rescues since Thanksgiving is in part because of an increasing number of inshore holes and a compromised ocean floor, rendered unrecognizable after hurricanes Ian and Nicole.

“(The ocean floor) in a current state of motion. The sandbars have been weakened. It’s going to take a little bit of time for it to rebuild,” Witcher said. “Those sandbars have been weakened so much and inshore holes are so deep that people aren’t able to stand up on their own. And that’s where they get into trouble.”

He added officials are cautioning beachgoers ahead of a tropical system expected to bring 6- to 10-foot surf Saturday and Sunday.

“In light of the recent events, with the extra rescues, and drownings, we felt like it was appropriate to go over rip current awareness and beach safety,” he said.

He outlined the following beach safety guidelines:

  • Do not go to the beach by yourself.
  • If you get stuck in a rip current, make sure you are able to float and tread water to call for help.
  • If you get stuck in a rip current, let the rip take you out and then swim back parallel to shore.
  • Swim at county beaches with a lifeguard present. (Cocoa Beach Pier, Shepard Park, Minutemen Causeway, Lori Wilson Park and Paradise Beach)
  • Do not panic in the event of a rip current or beach-related emergency.

In the event of a rip current, Witcher said swimmers can sometimes see “a sudden outflow of water” built by a break in the waves, but other times, they see nothing at all.

“That’s why I say that is one part of a lifeguard areas we can actually spot these things from our vantage point. And also check in with our flag system as well,” he said. “We also have red flag, a double red flag, and we’re planning on flying those types of flags as we go into the weekend and most likely for the remainder of the year.”

Witcher said there would be extra staff on the beaches to help keep people safe.

The news briefing comes after a 17-year-old girl died after getting caught in rough surf off Cocoa Beach Sunday, a 56-year-old woman was found dead in the water by a surfer on Tuesday, a man in his 50s drowned in the ocean Wednesday.

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About the Authors:

Samantha started at WKMG-TV in September 2020. Before joining the News 6 team, Samantha was a political reporter for The Villages Daily Sun and has had freelance work featured in the Evansville Courier-Press and The Community Paper. When not writing, she enjoys travelling and performing improv comedy.

Thomas Mates is a digital storyteller for News 6 and ClickOrlando.com. He also produces the podcast Florida Foodie. Thomas is originally from Northeastern Pennsylvania and worked in Portland, Oregon before moving to Central Florida in August 2018. He graduated from Temple University with a degree in Journalism in 2010.