Officials this week called off the search for a New York man who had gone missing last weekend while swimming near the Indian River Inlet.
Jeff King of Jordanville, N.Y., who was said to be about 30, was swimming in the early morning hours with two other people at Delaware Seashore State Park on June 29 when he went missing.
“The individuals he was swimming with told us that he was struggling — that’s how they put it,” said Wayne Kline, chief of enforcement for Delaware State Parks. “They tried to help him and couldn’t. They saw him go under the water. The other two individuals came into the beach and were waiting and watching to see if he came in through the surf. And he didn’t. And that’s when they called 911.”
Kline said that, within minutes of the call being made around 7:54 a.m., officials arrived on the scene, including the Delaware State Police, Bethany Beach Volunteer Fire Company, the U.S. Coast Guard and DNREC, to search for King.
“Most of the agencies were there for about two and a half hours. The U.S. Coast Guard stayed on scene with their boat and aviation unit for most of the day. Around three o’clock, the Coast Guard officially suspended their search and rescue efforts. State Parks Enforcement, we were on scene the entire day. We were checking the beach areas. We have lifeguards on duty in the area,” said Kline.
He added that King went missing during an outgoing tide, from a guarded beach, but before the lifeguards were on duty.
“They went in the water, they said, around 7:30, and our lifeguards are on duty from 9 to 5 in that area. We had the lifeguards on all day, so, essentially, we were still looking for him throughout the entire day.”
Kline said officials have been scanning the beaches every day since the incident, and are currently waiting for any evidence of King to surface.
“We were checking the beaches every day since. We had the state police helicopter up and flew over a lot of the area around the inlet, the beach areas from Rehoboth down to Bethany,” he said. “We’re basically in the recovery mode, waiting to see if the individual surfaces, comes up onto the beach or if he’s seen by boating traffic out in the ocean.
“It’s obvious, being this far into the event, there’s very, very limited probability that the individual is alive unless he’s come out of the water and has an ulterior motive to be someplace else.”
Officials have not released any photos of King. Kline noted that, if a body is recovered, it is not guaranteed that it will be visually identifiable.
“We’re just waiting for him to come up. In my experience, if he’s found, he would come in with the tide onto a beach area someplace. It could be in a municipality. It may not necessarily be at Delaware Seashore State Park. He could come in the town limits of Bethany or Dewey or Rehoboth. The water and the tides do things,” he said.
“We won’t know if it’s him. The only way of positively identifying him would be through the Medical Examiner’s Office. The body would be turned over to them to determine identity and cause of death. It depends on how long the person has been out there and if there’s any decomposition, whether we’re able to possibly tell if it’s the right person. That’s the general protocol when a body is found.”
Kline added that, although such incidents are not common, they are also not unheard of.
“There are several cases, I would say, throughout the year in the beach areas, of people who go into the water and are missing. I’m not saying this is the case, but sometimes it’s suicidal, sometimes it’s people who have had too much to drink and they try to go for a nighttime swim.
“When you look from Ocean City, Md., to Lewes, Del.,” he said, “there are usually a number of cases every summer along that coast where there’s usually some sort of water incident or accident like that.”
Kline urged swimmers to wait to go into the ocean until lifeguards are on duty, for their own safety.
“It is one of our most popular swimming areas,” he said. “We recommend you swim in a guarded swimming area during lifeguarded hours, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.”