FERNANDINA BEACH, Fla. – The swimmer who drowned Friday night in the surf on Fernandina Beach was a 51-year-old woman who lived one block from the beach and left behind an 8-year-old son.
The Fernandina Beach police said Dianne Hardenbergh was swimming with three friends at North Fletcher Beach when she disappeared in the water. She was reported missing about 9:45 p.m. Friday.
Hardenbergh's fiance, Tim Robinson, said he can't believe she's gone.
"I can't say enough good about her," Robinson said. "She's a wonderful person. I don't want to address her in the past tense because I still see her right here."
Pictures of Hardenbergh — and her infectious smile — fill scrapbooks throughout her and Robinson's house on the beach. Hardenbergh's son (pictured with her) did not live with her.
"Very dedicated (mom), you'd see her out on the beach, playing with her son: Frisbee, Frisbee golf down at the park, just playing golf," Robinson said. "He's a little baseball all-star. She put a lot of effort into it.
"Human life is so fragile and we're just here for a brief time," Robinson said. "We need to do everything we can to make sure there's a chance for life because accidents happen."
The Nassau County Sheriff's Office and Fernandina Beach police, assisted in the search by a Coast Guard helicopter crew from Air Station Savannah, Ga., the Coast Guard Cutter Kingfisher from Mayport and a Coast Guard Auxiliary airplane, searched through the night.
A fisherman spotted what he thought was a body near the jetties about 11 a.m. Saturday. While it appeared to be the body of the missing woman, the identity was confirmed in an autopsy, which also determined the cause of death was drowning.
Robinson said at first Hardenbergh was just 10 feet away from her companions in the ocean. Then she was 20-25 feet away. He said he thinks there was a current, and he remembers calling out to her to come back, but she kept saying, "I'll be alright," Robinson said.
He said a friend jumped in the water to try to save her, but it was too late. He said the friend heard her go under.
"I think sometimes people who are excellent swimmers need to be extra careful because they are so confident in their skills," Robinson said. "I was just honored and blessed to know her."
Robinson said he hopes to start a fund in her honor to get more water safety equipment to hopefully prevent something like this from happening again.