Search and rescue efforts for a Crestview man who went swimming on Navarre Beach around 3:30 a.m. Tuesday turned into a recovery effort after it was believed a strong current had pulled him out into the Gulf of Mexico.
Anxious family members and friends waited ashore behind Summerwind Condominiums throughout the day as first responders scoured the coastline where 28-year-old Christopher Beal and an unidentified female had entered the Gulf overnight.
“The water was very rough with red flag surf conditions. The second individual was able to exit the water, but it is believed at this time Beal was carried away in the surf,” said Santa Rosa County Sheriff’s Office Public Information Officer Sgt. Rich Aloy.
The mood turned somber for the man’s loved ones around 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday when teams shifted their efforts to search and recovery after they believed Beal may have drowned.
According to Public Affairs Officer Jonathan Lally, the United States Coast Guard completed a search over 404 nautical square miles using a fixed-wing aircraft from New Orleans and a helicopter from Mobile, Alabama. He said two boats from Pensacola and Destin were also utilized.
Lally said one boat crew remained in the vicinity Wednesday morning to “thoroughly saturate the area.”
First responders were initially dispatched to the scene around 4:20 a.m. on Tuesday when a search for the missing swimmer began around 300 yards west of the Navarre Beach Fishing Pier.
Navarre Beach Fire Rescue Chief Mike Howard and his staff responded to the incident and patrolled the area using trucks and all-terrain vehicles.
Crews from Santa Rosa Sheriff’s Office, Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, Santa Rosa County Emergency Management and Lifeguard Air Ambulance also participated in the search.
Additionally, the Trauma Intervention Program team was also on scene to provide support to Beal’s family and friends.
Despite inclement weather, the search for Beal continued Wednesday morning.
Tom Lloyd, operations chief for Santa Rosa County Emergency Management, stayed on scene with Howard during the search. Lloyd said although impending storms could hamper the effort, plans are underway for Navarre Beach Fire Rescue to continue periodic patrols for several days.