SACO — Eight swimmers who were caught in a powerful rip current Monday off a Saco beach made it back to shore safely, but one of them was hospitalized.

Deputy Fire Chief David Pendleton said a combination of good Samaritans and lifeguards from Old Orchard Beach helped everyone get back to shore after the swimmers started yelling for help.

Though Pendleton did not witness the rescue, he spoke with Keith Willett – Old Orchard Beach’s lifeguard captain – who told him that “at one point there were eight people in the water who were less than comfortable” with the power of the rip current that was dragging them out to sea. Willett could not be reached Monday.

Pendleton said a man who went into the ocean to help rescue his young daughter – about 10 years old – was hospitalized.

The man, who lives in the Boston area, ingested a large amount of salt water and was taken to Southern Maine Health Care in Biddeford for observation. His condition is not believed to be life-threatening. Pendleton did not identify the man.

“He was conscious and alert, but it was clear he had swallowed a lot of salt water,” Pendleton said. “The ocean was very rough today.”

Pendleton said authorities received a call around 4 p.m. reporting that several swimmers were in distress. Saco firefighters responded to Kinney Shores – a beach between the Ocean Park neighborhood in Old Orchard Beach and Ferry Beach State Park in Saco – along with seven lifeguards, including members of the Old Orchard Beach Surf Rescue team. Old Orchard Beach ends at Ocean Park, but two lifeguards who patrol that beach ran to the beach at Kinney Shores.

“The ocean looked angry,” said LeeJoy Labrecque of Biddeford, who witnessed the rescue.

Several bystanders on the beach heard the swimmers’ cries for help and went into the ocean.

John Thibeault, 64, of Saco said he was looking onto the water from his girlfriend’s deck, where she keeps a life ring because of the riptide. “I knew they were all in trouble,” he said.

When Thibeault saw people start to go in after the swimmers, he grabbed the life ring and ran through the house down to the beach.

Because of a torn rotator cuff, he can’t swim, so he waded up to his chest and threw the life ring to another man.

Matt Carter, 42, of Ottawa, Ontario, said he took the flotation device and swam about 50 yards to a young woman who was in distress. The woman held onto the life ring and Carter pulled her back to shore.

A paddleboarder and a man with a boogie board also went out to the swimmers, who held onto the boards while they paddled back to shore, Carter said. The lifeguards assisted the swimmers as they were emerging from the surf.

“I’ve never seen waves that high at this beach. It was really exceptional,” Carter said. For the past four years, Carter and his wife have rented a cottage at Kinney Shores.

James Brown, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Gray, said a strong onshore wind has been whipping up waves and causing rip currents to gain in strength. The onshore wind has been affecting the Maine coast for about a week.


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