Pacific coast drownings have a familiar and tragic echo

Location of the latest drowning death

The news of deaths on the central Pacific coast was familiar. Shortly before noon rip tides swept away students who were in Costa Rica for a short visit.

Wednesday two students were rescued, one body was recovered, and the Cruz Roja still seeks two persons. The scene was Playa Bejuco south of Parrita. The Judicial Investigating Organization identified the group of 12 tourists as missionaries from an Ohio high school.

The tragedy served as a reminder of the when three Kansas high school students and their teacher died not far away at Palo Seco in June 2006. Then, too, the student victims were 17. The teacher was 26. All came from La Bette County High School in Altamont, southeastern Kansas.

The Columbus, Ohio, dispatch, said the students who died Wednesday were from Patriot Preparatory Academy in that Ohio city. The group was scheduled to leave Costa Rica today after spending time in Pérez Zeledón, said investigators. The Dirección Nacional de Socorros y Operaciones of the Cruz Roja will resume the search early today. A plane was used Wednesday without success.

The Cruz Roja reported Easter that 11 persons had died in water accidents over Semana Santa. And the search has been called off for a surfer who vanished at Playa Guiones at Nosara on the far Pacific coast.

The U.S. State Department says “On both the Caribbean and Pacific coasts currents are swift and dangerous, and there are few lifeguards or signs warning of dangerous beaches. Every year a number of U.S. citizens drown in Costa Rica due to rip tides or sudden drop-offs while in shallow water. Extreme caution is advised.”

The State Department also provided data on the number of drowning deaths of U.S. citizens here. The department Web site lists 59 drowning deaths in Costa Rica from January 2003 to last December. Not all happened in the ocean.

That data does not include Canadians and those of other nationalities who might have died in the surf. A Canadian woman, Penny Obee, died March 14 at a Nicoya Peninsula beach also called Playa Bejuco. The Minden Times in Canada identified her as a local educator.

Another student who lost his life was Erik L. Downes of Cape Coral, Florida, a junior pre-med student at Oglethorpe University in Atlanta. He died Jan. 4 at a beach south of Dominical on the central Pacific coast.

A drowning death in Jacó at the end of February of Leonardo Godínez Duarte from Tibás prompted the Servicio Nacional de Guardacostas to issue a warning for bathers. The agency said that swimmers caught in a rip tide should not try to swim against the current but should try to move parallel to the beach and try to get out of the strong flow that way.

The majority of such deaths are of Costa Ricans or other residents here.

In Tamarindo an Illinois tourist died just minutes after being briefed on what to do if caught in a rip tide. The man was 42-year-old Matt McParland, a chiropractor. That was in January 2008. The man was instructed to avoid fighting the tide and to swim parallel to shore, but he appears to have panicked when caught by a tide just a few minutes later. His death caused Tamarindo to reinstate a lifeguard program.

Other deaths took place when the swimmer was alone. That appears to be what happened to Dennis Tooru Saski, a 61-year-old tourist from the State of Hawaii who drowned in February 2006 while swimming at Playa Esterillos on the central Pacific coast. A search crew managed to recover the body.

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