Crews locate body of missing swimmer on Tybee Island

Tybee Beach.
Tybee Beach.(WTOC)
Updated: Aug. 24, 2020 at 11:00 PM EDT
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TYBEE ISLAND, Ga. (WTOC) - The body of a missing swimmer was found on Tybee Island on Monday.

Rescue efforts were in full effect from Sunday night into the early morning.

Sunday night, three people were swimming near 18th street. Around 8 p.m., the Tybee Island Fire Department was alerted about the swimmers.

The interim fire chief says two swimmers were rescued about 100 yards out from the shore and the third swimmer couldn't be found.

As soon as the call came in, fire officials say they were on scene at 18th Street extremely fast. Interim Fire Chief Matt Harrell says one swimmer was rescued by them, the other was rescued by a local kite boarder.

A rescue mission was immediately started for the third swimmer.

Tybee called in help from other agencies include the United States Coast Guard, Chatham County Mosquito Patrol helicopter, Chatham County Marine Patrol, Savannah Fire, the DNR and MRS.

Harrell says at first the search was concentrated in the area of 18th Street, but it ended up spreading. Ultimately, the waters around the entire island was searched. Officials say water conditions were rough Sunday night, they expect this had a lot to do with what happened.

Around 10:30 a.m. Monday, Savannah Fire located the body in the Back River area. Right now, we know that the victim was a female in her late teens.

“We held on hope throughout the night. I mean anything can happen. There’s always a possibility, so that’s why we got every resource we could get especially for the first 2 1/2 hours,” Harrell said.

Chief Harrell says visitors need to remember that water conditions can be dangerous especially on the south end, and they must be on alert.

“Stay in front of a lifeguard tower. Stay close to shore. When our lifeguards leave for the day, by all means hangout on the beach, but it’s not safe to get out into the water especially going very far out.”

The other two swimmers are expected to be OK.

After tragedy struck, we’re hearing from a resident who rescued a teenager who nearly drowned.

“There’s nothing, there’s nothing heroic in this. It’s just a tragedy,” said Mack Kitchens.

Mack Kitchens was born and raised on Tybee Island. He’s been kiteboarding for about 23 years.

Before leaving the beach Sunday night he was told about two girls drowning in the water.

So, he jumped back in to save them.

“I was on a really small kiteboard actually and it was rough and I couldn’t actually see them but one of the girls was frantically screaming and I just kind of paddled in that direction until, until I actually got sight of her.”

Ktichens says it was dark and believes they were about 100 yards from the shore. The girls had gotten separated from each other. He was only able to get to one.

“We all three came up simultaneously and I caught sight of her and in that moment, she actually passed.”

Kitchens says he wishes he could’ve saved both and believes the victim is in a better place.

“It’s not really for me, I guess me or anybody else, to understand. We’re in the places we’re in, at the times we’re in them but I am, you know, I’ve kind of had to let that go and just know that you know God uses everything for a purpose.”

Kitchens says the city has stepped up rescue operations in recent years and the agencies involved do a great job. He also asks the public for prayers for the victim’s family and friends.

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