PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. — Three more tourists died in separate incidents after swimming in the Gulf of Mexico over the weekend under dangerous surf conditions, adding to the growing number of water fatalities in the United States this year.
Including these fatalities, Panama Beach has seen seven surf fatalities within the span of nine days. The latest deaths occurred Saturday, June 24, off of Panama Beach, Florida, according to the Panama City Beach Police Department. The department responded to “three separate fatal water incidents behind three different resorts,” said the police, adding that all three individuals had been pulled from the water unresponsive.
Conditions at the time had been severe, with double-red flags, which indicate extreme water hazards.
“Often, this means very dangerous ocean conditions, such as strong rip currents, and beach goers should stay out of the water when these flags are present,” said Elyssa Finkelstein, a then-spokesperson for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, to AccuWeather in a past interview.
In Bay County, violators of double-red flags could be issued a $500 fine and could be arrested on the second offense.
“I’m beyond frustrated at the situation that we have with tragic and unnecessary deaths in the Gulf,”said Bay County Sheriff Tommy Ford in a Facebook post. “I have watched while deputies, firefighters and lifeguards have risked their lives to save strangers. I have seen strangers die trying to save their children and loved ones, including two fathers on Father’s Day,” said Ford.
Christopher Pierce, 47, of Helena, Alabama, drowned off the coast of Panama City Beach, on June 18 while trying to rescue his daughter from a rip current. While he saved her life, he himself got caught in the rip current.
Seven people have died off the coast of Panama City Beach over nine days, from June 15 to June 24, bringing Florida’s tally surf zone fatalities this year to 27, according to the National Weather Service (NWS). Overall, the NWS has recorded 60 surf zone fatalities across all 50 U.S. states and its territories.
Florida holds the unwanted ranking of highest count of surf zone fatalities. Puerto Rico, with half as much surf zone deaths as Florida, follows at 13.
The database by the NWS that tracks these incidents accounts for rip currents, high surf, sneaker waves and other dangerous surf conditions. The year 2021 saw the highest number of rip current deaths, according to the NWS, with 111 fatalities. The 10-year average for rip current fatalities is 71.
Produced in association with AccuWeather
Edited by Judy J. Rotich