Family heartbroken as crews continue to search for missing swimmer on Tybee Island

Search continues for missing swimmer

TYBEE ISLAND, GA (WTOC) - Emergency crews with Tybee Island are still searching for a swimmer who went missing late Sunday evening.

The family tells us the missing teenager is Je’Aarian Belin. The New Hampstead High School student’s family spoke to WTOC Monday night over the phone. They say they are heartbroken.

The family says the victim is their son, Je’Aarian Scott Belin. In a Facebook post, the mother, Patrina Belin Williams, says her son was acting as a hero and was fearless to help the others and he then got trapped in the tides. She went on to ask for everyone’s prayers for their family.

'What I do know is that my son was being a hero and being fearless to help someone else and got trapped in the tides. My soul hurts because I couldn’t imagine going through pain like this. I ask that you all keep my family and I in prayer, she said in the Facebook post.

Several agencies are vigilantly searching for the missing teenage boy. Tybee City Manager, Shawn Gillen, explains all of the resources they are utilizing, including the U.S. Coast Guard and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

“We also have the Chatham County helicopter up in the air. We have our crews out on the beach, doing a beach watch. As soon as they are able to locate the young man, they’ll bring him in," Gillen said.

Search efforts will continue Wednesday.

Family of missing Tybee swimmer heartbroken

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On Monday, Tybee Island City Manager Shawn Gillen said the rescue mission is now a recovery mission. Gillen says the search team has a pretty good idea where to look based on the tide and current, because this unfortunately is something we’ve seen an average of once a year for the past five years - all on the island’s south end.

​The staging area for the search Sunday night was at the Chatham Avenue access point to the beach at the island’s south end. Tybee Fire led the effort, assisted by the county’s helicopter, U.S. Coast Guard, Tybee’s Marine Rescue Squadron, Tybee Police and Chatham Emergency Services.

Tybee Island Fire Chief Jason Patterson confirmed three teenagers were out on a sandbar and got stranded as the tide rapidly came in around 7 p.m. A Tybee resident tells WTOC he spotted the teens and called 911.

Two of the three teens were able to swim back, but one never returned to shore.

The city manager says Tybee Ocean Rescue cleared people off the sandbar around 6 p.m. The three teens went back out around 7 p.m.

The search resumed Monday morning at 7 a.m.

To help keep people from wandering out onto the sandbars, the city is looking to buy more signs, as well as possibly using drones and cameras to keep a live video up to monitor constantly. Gillen says they plan on having fire department personnel in the area during the evening tide shift from now on.

“Next month, we will have the lifeguards up and running. Then, we will have a full complement, and we will also be enhancing that with fire department personnel on ATVs, mobile, up and down the beach until we can cover those areas that aren’t normally covered,” Gillen said.

WTOC spoke with a long-time Tybee resident who understands all too well how deadly the tide off the southern end can be. Mack Kitchens actually found a missing swimmer’s body last fall while helping search crews in a similar situation. He explained what makes the area especially dangerous.

“You have channels that are running in and out of the ocean into the Back River, so you’re looking at a whole sea trying to choke up in a small tributary trying to get in, so the currents are very fast-moving, very treacherous, and you can be in knee-deep water in literally minutes and being swept away," Kitchens said.

Kitchens says he plans on helping in Monday’s search efforts.

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