Day at the beach turns to panic, tragedy; married couple die

August 20, 2018 - 3:54 pm

SEABROOK, N.H. (AP) — One moment, Matt Tomasewski was enjoying a sunny day at the beach with his family. The next, he was running to the ocean with his paddleboard to try to save the lives of six swimmers caught in a rip current.

Tomasewski, a 29-year-old former basketball player for Syracuse University, managed to help two people grab his board off Seabrook Beach in New Hampshire.

He also tried to rescue a third person who appeared to be unconscious.

He "helped to get his head out of the water and tried to put as much of his torso on the paddleboard as I could while the other two were just holding on," Tomasewski said.

But then, a wave pushed the man away, and he lost sight of him. He gave his board to the other two swimmers who headed to shore as he went in search of the third swimmer.

"I learned afterwards that the people I helped have three daughters, and I'm a father myself, so when I was running out there, I was thinking about saving as many people as I can. And on my way back in, it was all thinking about my family," Tomasewski, of Boston, told WCVB-TV.

A husband and wife, 49-year-old Michael Cote and 47-year-old Laura Cote, of Methuen, Massachusetts, were pulled unconscious from the water and died, police said.

"They were so involved in every spiritual and other undertaking in this parish that many of us are in deep mourning," the Rev. Sean Maher, of St. Francis Parish in Dracut, Massachusetts, posted on Facebook. A Mass for them was planned Monday night.

The other four swimmers and a good Samaritan who aided in the rescues were pulled from the water and weren't hurt.

Rip currents, sometimes referred to as riptides, are narrow channels of water that move as fast as 8 feet a second and occur at any beach with breaking waves. They move away from the shore. Anyone caught in them is advised to swim parallel to shore to escape their pull.

There were signs on the beach warning swimmers that no lifeguards were on duty, but not about the potential for a rip current, Seabrook Town Manager William Manzi III said.

It was the first one he could remember since becoming town manager five years ago. Alerts on the rough currents and an advisory to avoid swimming were put on the local police department's social media accounts afterward.

The police and fire departments are expected to issue recommendations in response to the tragedy in the coming days, to be considered by the town board, Manzi said.

"Whatever they recommend, we will take a look and see what happens," Manzi said.

In 2006, New Hampshire beaches started a flag warning system after two swimmers drowned in rip currents near Hampton Beach the year before. The color-coded flags included green ones to signal low risk and red to alert beachgoers to high risk conditions.

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