PANAMA CITY BEACH – A 61-year-old Georgia man died Wednesday after going snorkeling in the Gulf of Mexico while first responders spent much of the day trying to keep beachgoers out of dangerous rip currents left in the wake of Tropical Storm Alberto.
According to the Bay County Sheriff’s Office, Rick Correll was found floating face down at about 2:45 p.m. in the water behind Regency Towers, 5801 Thomas Drive. Before and since Tropical Storm Alberto made landfall, double red flags have flown over the beach to indicate swimming is prohibited. But as the sun appeared Wednesday, law enforcement saw a sharp increase in water rescues and issued dozens of warnings to those venturing into the dangerous currents.
At about 2:45 p.m., though, tragedy struck behind the Regency Towers.
BCSO reported finding Correll about 200 yards from shore. His family said he had gone snorkeling, but hadn’t seen him in over an hour. Once Correll was brought to shore, CPR was performed but he was pronounced dead on scene, BCSO reported.
Correll’s body has been turned over to the Medical Examiner’s Office to determine a cause of death.
Sheriff Tommy Ford said his officers responded to several distressed swimmers and responded to 30 beach ordinance calls to warn swimmers to get out of the water while double red flags were out.
"We are always saddened by any loss of life,” Ford said. “I would like to remind people to take the flag warning system seriously."
PCBPD Chief Drew Whitman said his officers have not had any serious distress calls but have been responding to several water calls in the days since Tropical Storm Alberto.
“We just had a lot of people stay after Memorial Day longer so they wouldn’t have to drive in the rain,” Whitman said. “Once the sun came out, they hit the beach.”
BCSO worked several water rescues in the immediate area behind Regency Towers. Within a matter of minutes after emergency crews left with Correll’s body, remaining officers with the Beach Rescue Unit were again running in to the water.
Sarah Bohannon, of Memphis, said she was just trying to swim to the sandbar. When she realized she was too far out, Bohannon tried to swim back on her boogie board but couldn’t make any headway against the strong rip currents lingering from Tropical Storm Alberto.
“I was scared until I saw the lifeguard coming,” Bohannon said. “When I saw him, I tried not to panic and that helped.”
As Bohannon gave a brief hug to the officer who’d rescued her from the water, crime scene investigators were speaking with Correll’s visibly distraught family.
Double red flags means the water is closed to swimming – even to the strongest swimmers. In Bay County and Panama City Beach, swimmers can be fined or arrested for violating the ordinance.