WILDWOOD — Two swimmers were rescued off a beach in Wildwood Tuesday afternoon but one remains missing and is presumed drowned.

The search began around 4 p.m. Tuesday by the Wildwood Fire Department after an initial call for two people struggling out very far from the beach at Andrews Avenue, according to Wildwood fire Chief Ernie Troiano

"Our units were on the beach at the water's edge within three minutes and rescued two individuals that were out quite a ways," Troiano told New Jersey 101.5. "When we brought them into shore, one individual said that his friend went missing. 'I saw him, he was right in front of me, he was in a breaker on a sand bar then I didn't see him.'"

A third swimmer in the group, who are all adult men, got himself out of the water before rescue teams arrived. One of the victims was taken to a hospital after taking in a lot of water.

The chief did not disclose the identity of the man presumed drowned pending notification of family.

The search continued using wave runners and rescue boards from the fishing pier in Wildwood Crest to Mariner's Landing, according to the chief. The U.S. Coast Guard sent a helicopter and boat, Sea Tow provided a sonar and the State Police marine unit sent a second helicopter.

Rescue mode in the cold water

Troiano said that they were in "rescue mode" for 90 minutes but there were concerns for their safety because of relatively cold water temperatures in the lower 60s. The rescuers were rotated in and out as their core body temperatures dropped. After 90 minutes, the effort went from rescue to recovery mode.

"It's something you're reluctant to do because no one ever wants to throw in the towel or look like we're raising the white flag because we're here to rescue people and save people. That's our mission. It's a frustrating thing to do but it was the right thing to do at the time," Troiano said.

The chief said there was a glimmer of hope after sonar picked up something but a diver didn't find anything.

Lifeguards not on duty but still part of search

Troiano said that the beaches in Wildwood are not fully guarded during the week. There was no lifeguard on duty at the Andrews Avenue beach on Tuesday. Two members of the beach patrol were doing maintenance but were still a big part of the rescue operation.

"They were a big asset in getting us resources. They got us fuel to make sure everything was running for a couple of hours," Troiano said. "One got on a board and reached one of the victims and was able bring him in."

Lifeguards will be on duty on Friday and Saturday and again the weekend of June 11 and 12 at the city's 12 beaches. There will be limited daily coverage starting Monday, June 13.

Dan Alexander is a reporter for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at dan.alexander@townsquaremedia.com

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