HAMILTON TOWNSHIP — A 23-year-old man died Sunday after going under the water for more than a hour in the Great Egg Harbor River near the area of Weymouth Furnace Park, county officials said Monday.
The body of the man, who has not yet been identified, was recovered around 4:30 p.m., two hours after witnesses say he suddenly went under the water.
Witnesses described a “terrifying” scene of the man’s sudden disappearance and efforts to find the man as dozens formed a human chain to search the bottom of river.
Barbara Macrie, of Egg Harbor Township, said she was on the beach taking pictures of her children who were playing in the water near the men when the one man went under. She said everything happened suddenly.
“The kids were standing right where the water drops off. These guys were not messing around; they were just three guys hanging out in the water and then, boom, he disappeared,” said Macrie, who says she goes tubing every year at the river.
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Weymouth Furnace is a part of the Atlantic County Park System. The Great Egg Harbor River in Mays Landing, which runs through the park, is a popular spot for tubing, canoeing and kayaking. Although swimming is prohibited there, with posting on the trees near the water, many people often use the area as a stop to cool off on their journey down the river.
On July 4, 2018, a 14-year-old drowned in the same location.
Kelly Boyle of Egg Harbor Township was with her family on the river Sunday, also. She described the scene.
“It’s a very popular spot for people to hang out, barbecue and hang out in the water. There are signs posted, but people still go in,” Boyle said. “My fiancé, myself and daughter were sitting in the shallows in our tubes when we seen a lot of commotion and people yelling.”
Boyle said that people immediately rushed over to help and began diving into the water to find the missing man.
“What most people don’t know is on the opposite river bank across from the Furnace is a deep hole with a very strong vortex like undercurrent and there is a ton of debris down deep, it’s kind of like a catch all for things coming down the river and sadly situations like this can happen,” Boyle said. “The swimmer just vanished. First responders were quick to arrive and worked hand-in-hand with the people in the water in efforts to find the man.”
Another eyewitness to the incident, Kelly Irvin of Egg Harbor Township who was part of Macrie’s party, said that three men were in the tubing party just behind them when they headed out from Palace Outfitters that afternoon. She said they were very friendly. The men, along with several others on the water that day, entered the water near the park to swim around 2:30 p.m.
“The water is shallow and you can see the stone on the bottom, but then as you go farther out to the other side it does drop off a little bit, but there is a place that it drops off extremely deep,” Irvin explained.
When one of the men went under, his friend ran for help.
Irvin said a group of about 30 people attempted to form a human chain in the water to try to locate the missing man until emergency responders arrived.
Macrie said that she had no idea the area was as dangerous as it is, but added that the young men were not acting in a reckless way.
About an hour after the man went missing, witnesses say that police cleared the area and closed the park.
Irvin says she hopes that the incident will lead the county to post more signage on the river warning of the dangerous area.
“There is a sign that says ‘no swimming,’” Irvin said. “But to the kayakers and the tubers...you wouldn’t see it. I really believe they did not know it was ‘no swimming.’”
This incident is currently under investigation and Weymouth Furnace is closed to visitors at this time.
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