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July 26. 2013 7:40PM

Swimmers warned about 'tranquil' ocean

HAMPTON — The Atlantic Ocean has been more like a lake this summer, but public safety officials are warning swimmers not to be fooled by the tranquil conditions.

Jim Donahue, lifeguard chief at Hampton Beach who is now in his 54th year on the job, said he can't remember a year with so few water rescues.

The most serious rescue came Thursday night when two 28-year-old swimmers from Derry and Salem became caught in a rip current and had to be pulled to safety.

"This summer has been so calm," Donahue said.

On average, lifeguards at Hampton Beach assist between eight and 10 swimmers a day in the summer months, Donahue said. Those needing help are usually young people on boogie boards who need some assistance due to the surf — not necessarily an all-out rescue.

So far this season, Donahue said lifeguards have averaged only a few assists per week.

"We've had the most benign conditions you could imagine for the month of July," Donahue said.

He attributes the quiet conditions to the lack of any significant storms out at sea that often increase the threat of rough surf and dangerous rip currents that can catch swimmers by surprise.

That was the case Thursday night when William V. Stillings of Derry and David Gioiosa of Salem had to be rescued after being in the water for 30 to 40 minutes.

The two men told officials that they went into the water for a swim but were suddenly swept out by a strong rip current.

Hampton police and fire and rescue personnel were called to the beach around 8 p.m. after receiving a report that the two men were in distress in the waters off of the beach at the end of Haverhill Avenue.

The men were approximately 75 yards offshore when rescuers arrived.

Signs posted along the beach warn swimmers about rip currents and how to swim out of them when they feel themselves being pulled out farther off shore.

The biggest mistake people make is swimming against the current, Donahue said.

Swimmers caught in a current should swim parallel to the shoreline until they reach an area where they no longer feel a pull, Donahue said.

During Thursday's incident, Hampton Deputy Police Chief Richard Sawyer said a 13-year-old boy from Jay, Maine, noticed that the men were in trouble and ran into the water to try to help them.

However, Sawyer said the rip current was too strong for the boy, who eventually turned back and also had to be helped out by others on the beach.

As soon as they arrived, Hampton fire and rescue swimmers Jed Carpentier and Kyle Jameson entered the water from shore. Hampton police officer James Deluca, a trained lifeguard with more than 30 years of experience on Hampton Beach, also joined the rescue effort.

Hampton fire and rescue's Marine 1 unit was sent to the scene with rescue swimmer Nate Denio, who entered the water from the boat.

Off-duty lifeguards from the state park responded as well.

Stillings and Gioiosa were pulled to safety aboard the rescue boat and transported to the public safety dock in Hampton Harbor.

They were treated at the scene, but were not injured.

"It was a team effort and that's an ongoing thing we work on with a level of cooperation between police, fire and rescue and the lifeguards," Sawyer said.

Sawyer urged swimmers to use extra caution when lifeguards are not on duty.

According to Donahue, lifeguards are posted between 9 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. during the summer months. Depending on conditions, there are times when they may be on until dark, he said.

Lifeguard coverage wraps up after Labor Day, but lifeguards are brought back during the weekend of the annual Seafood Festival, which will be held this year from Sept. 6 to 8.

jschreiber@newstote.com


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