Diver who drowned at Shark River Inlet ID’d as missing Westfield teen
AVON BY THE SEA — A body found in the Shark River Inlet has been identified as that of 17-year-old Jeffrey Hoens, who went missing there this weekend.
Avon Police Chief Terrence Mahon confirmed the identity to NJ Advance Media. He said Hoens was identified by the medical examiner based on the photograph on his driver's license after his body was found by divers Sunday.
Authorities had been looking for the Westfield boy since he was reported missing. They say the teen was a free diver, meaning he wasn't using scuba gear, and had been spear fishing when he disappeared.
According to Neptune police director and Emergency Management coordinator Michael Bascom, friends of the victim last saw him enter the water at approximately 1:30 p.m. on Saturday.
"At some point thereafter, the friends realized that they had not seen the victim for some time and began searching the water and the surrounding area for their friend. After failing to locate him, the family was contacted and came to the waterfront to help locate him," Bascom said.
At approximately 4:30 p.m. Bascon said, the Avon-By-The-Sea Police Department was notified of the missing teenager and along with Avon By The Sea Lifeguards, and initiated an immediate search of the area. The ANSWER Water Rescue Team then responded to provide additional rescue swimmers, divers, a boat crew, three jets skis, command staff, critical incident stress management personnel, and emergency medical services from Avon, Neptune, and Neptune City, Bascon said.
According to Bascon, rescue crews faced challenges during the search as heavy rain and thunderstorms moved through the area. Eventually, rescue boats from the US Coast Guard and the New Jersey State Police also joined the search, along with the Belmar First Aid Water Rescue Team and a US Coast Guard helicopter that searched from the air once the inclement weather subsides, Bascon said.
The police director said crews were forced to suspend dive operations at about 10 p.m. Saturday, due to rough weather and lightening. The Coast Guard continued to search the water in boats throughout the night, Bascon added, and the underwater search resumed Sunday morning.
US Coast Guard Petty Officer Seth Johnson said the Coast Guard cutter Ibis was among the vessels that searched throughout Saturday evening.
Bascon said that at approximately noon, divers from the ANSWER Water Rescue Team recovered the body near the bridge.
“It is a heartbreaking assignment to recover the body of a teenager who fell victim to the dangers of the water, but it is important that we are able to provide the family with the closure they need during such a tragedy," ANSWER Team Swim Leader and Avon-By The-Sea Administrator Tim Gallagher said.
Belmar Mayor Matt Doherty had previously told New Jersey 101.5 the boy's body was found under the bridge over the inlet. Earlier, Doherty said searchers were going to do a "full court press to try to find him."
Doherty said the Shark River Inlet would be closed around noon at low tide for an hour to allow for a thorough search of the inlet, as officials worried the teen may have been drawn into the Shark River.
Authorities say they found the teen's car and other personal belongings on Saturday. His family was also in Belmar at the time he went missing.
A "diver down" flag, which indicates someone is diving in that spot, was found in the water.
"It's a tragic situation for all the people who come to Belmar and the Jersey Shore. It's rare for something like this to happen. It's really unfortunate and terrible for his family," Doherty said.
When word of Hoens' death began to spread, messages began to pop up on social media. His high school - St. Peter's Prep - asked the public to keep the teen's family and friends on their prayers.
"Jeff ... will be greatly missed, and we ask you all to keep his family and friends in your thoughts and prayers. We will share arrangements as they become available," St. Peter's Prep, from which he would have graduated in 2017, wrote on Facebook this weekend. "Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon him."
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— Staff and Associated Press reports