Initial 911 calls confusing, but did not delay drowning response, Ocean City police say

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OCEAN CITY – Some 911 callers attempting to summon help for a large group of swimmers caught in a rip current on the evening of June 29 told operators they were near a pier, bathrooms and Kohr Brothers Ice Cream, but had no idea where the tragedy was unfolding.

Ocean City police released tapes of the 911 calls on Monday. There were multiple calls for assistance. One said “the shore … out here by the boardwalk,” while another guessed it was 14th Street. 

The 911 operator initially dispatched lifeguards and other emergency personnel to 14th Street. An ensuing call for help correctly labeled the location as Ninth Street. 

Lifeguards rescued 14 people from the ocean but Corinthian Hammond, 14, drowned. The Philadelphia boy's body was found four days later near the Longport Bridge. 

Captain Steve Ang of the Ocean City Police Department said there was little delay by emergency responders because of the confusing 911 calls. The first call came in at 6:48 p.m. and lifeguards were on the scene within five or six minutes, he said. 

The Ocean City Beach Patrol had a rapid response team on duty until 8 p.m. June 29. Stationed at the beach patrol’s 12th Street headquarters, the lifeguards are prepared to respond anywhere on the island from a jet ski, Ang said.

“To take the call, launch the jet ski and arrive there within five or six minutes is a good response time,” he said. “They arrived at the location and in touch with the people in trouble pretty fast. That‘s a normal response time, considering they had to launch a jet ski.”

Ang said he did not believe that the confusion delayed the rescue. 

“The only way they could get there any quicker is if the emergency unfolded right in front of them,” he said. “You can easily see from the Music Pier to the fishing pier. That was an easy fix, an easy redirection.

“The most important thing is to get the emergency personnel activated, and that happened.”

Ang said confusion concerning an emergency’s location is not all that unusual. People are calling in a stressful situation and they often panic, he said.

Landmarks such as Kohr Brothers or other boardwalk businesses don’t work that well because there could be other locations. One 911 caller said he was near a “haunted” miniature golf course, but Ang said there are several golf courses on the Ocean City boardwalk that could fit that description.

Lifeguard stands are painted with the street number or name at every beach, he said. Ang said the city would look to place additional signage on the boardwalk, making it clearer for those on the beach where they are. Street signs on the boardwalk are sideways, to be visible for those on the boardwalk. 

“The bottom line is this, they were swimming after hours, and signs were posted,” Ang said. “Even during hours you should be swimming at a protected beach. You never know, the ocean floor changes with tides and currents. You are swimming in the ocean, all kinds of things can happen that you are unaware of. It’s very dangerous to swim after hours, and that’s why we post signs and we have lifeguards there during the day.”

After the drowning, the city moved to establish an after-hours program, guarding Eighth, Ninth and 12th streets every day through Labor Day, not just weekends and holidays. 

Swimming only at guarded beaches is the safest way to avoid an emergency, Ang said.

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