Drowning victim was visiting relatives

Lifeguards try to educate tourists on dangerous conditions

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – The 20-year-old man who drowned Tuesday at Mickler's Landing in Ponte Vedra Beach was a United Kingdom citizen visiting relatives in Jacksonville.

Thai Pham was swimming 50 yards offshore when he suddenly started to struggle and his head went under water. Deputies said he appeared to get caught in a rip current.

There are efforts in the area to educate tourists about dangerous conditions. Lifeguards in Jacksonville Beach have a program to make sure tourists are aware of just how dangerous the ocean can be.

Safety fliers are available in just about every hotel in Jacksonville Beach. The fliers have information on beach safety, ocean safety, marine animals in the area and tips for how to get out of a rip current.

Lifeguards also have the fliers available at the main lifeguard station and say they wish more people would take advantage of them.

"Every time that I am there, I am having to replenish brochure supplies and answer questions that the managers have," said Max Ervanian, officer of prevention and training.

Ervanian works with the hotels in Jacksonville Beach to make sure that the staffs are able to answer questions that visitors may have to make sure that if they go into the ocean, they know what to look out for.

"That's why we really stress on the hotel to be that first contact and train them in some minor beach and ocean safety skills that could really go a long way," Ervanian said.

Ocean Rescue Capt. Rob Emahiser said that locals ask far more questions about the conditions in the water than visitors do, something he hopes to change. He said knowing the day's dangers isn't as easy for beachgoers as simply looking at the flag flying, which is why he wants to urge people to ask a lifeguard.

"They know how not to be distracted and continue to watch the water to explain the conditions that are going on right then," Emahiser said. "A lot of times it's not just as simple as three colors."

Emahiser said Tuesday's drowning could have happened to even the most experienced swimmer, because it only takes a second for the rip current to sweep someone out. That's why some beachgoers always have the same message for guests.

"Don't go deeper than your waist," Brenda Nikelski said. "Make sure you are swimming near a lifeguard stand and keep a focal point of where you start. That way if you get too far, you can move back to your starting point again."

Lifeguards said they plan on putting up more signs and flags along Jacksonville Beach to let people know the conditions, but they said there is more to it than just a color. So anytime you have questions, stop by a lifeguard stand and they can give you all the information you need.