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Drownings in rough surf might total four

Associated Press
Published September 1, 2003

PENSACOLA BEACH - Rescuers pulled two bodies out of the Gulf of Mexico on Sunday, bringing the death toll in the roughed-up surf to three for the Labor Day weekend.

A fourth person was missing and presumed drowned, officials said.

Escambia County sheriff's spokesman Greg Pearson said rescue workers pulled the body of Linh Duy Nguyen, 30, of Houston, from the water Sunday.

Earlier Sunday, rescuers found the body of Michael Fitzpatrick, 46, of Memphis, Tenn., Pearson said. Fitzpatrick disappeared in the rough surf Saturday, witnesses said.

Rescue efforts continued Sunday for an 18-year-old resident alien from Mexico, Pearson said, although the search was being hampered by rough currents.

"It's so bad that we haven't been able to launch a boat," Pearson said. "And the current keeps churning up the water, so it's too murky to see. We're just waiting now for the body to surface."

On Saturday, Anthony Lee Pittman, 32, of Duluth, Ga., drowned several hundred yards west of where he entered the water's 5-foot swells.

All three drownings, as well as the presumed fourth drowning, occurred at unguarded stretches of beach, Pearson said.

Conditions have been extremely dangerous for swimmers since Friday, Pearson said.

"It is highly advised to stay out of the water," he said.

Workers were handing out pamphlets at the barrier island's toll booths, warning visitors of dangerous surf. A large sign at Casino Beach advised everyone to stay out of the gulf.

At Casino Beach, lifeguards said they rescued 15 swimmers caught in rip currents off the guarded beach Saturday. Firefighters at Navarre Beach also responded to several calls of swimmers in distress.

Barry Overstreet and his wife, Gayle, of Louisville, Ky., have vacationed at Pensacola Beach for 15 years. They witnessed attempts to rescue Pittman.

"I've never seen it this rough," Barry Overstreet told the Pensacola News Journal. "We would have tried to help, but it was just too rough. We didn't want to become statistics, too."

The confirmed drownings bring to 26 the number of people who have drowned off Escambia and Santa Rosa County beaches in the far western Panhandle since 2001.

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