Thousands pack Jacksonville Beach as crews continue search for missing 19-year-old swimmer

Curtis Newkirk Jr., 19, went missing in the ocean south of the Jacksonville Beach pier Sunday evening

JACKSONVILLE BEACH, Fla. – A busy weekend at the beach as tens of thousands of people hit the sand for Memorial Day weekend.

Conditions were beautiful on Monday, but lifeguards warned they were still dangerous.

Crews continued to search for Curtis Newkirk Jr., 19, who went missing in the ocean south of the Jacksonville Beach pier Sunday evening. Newkirk was swimming with a group when some of them went into distress, lifeguards said. Everyone else made it to the shore, but he was nowhere to be found.

A multi-agency search continues for Newkirk, whom family members said was loved.

Guards said the incident happened after lifeguards were off for the day, but a few supervisors were on a truck responding to another call when the 911 dispatch came in. They arrived within minutes.

On Monday, Jacksonville Beach lifeguards were extra busy. Beachgoers were enjoying the conditions but were also concerned for their safety.

“We come out just to enjoy it, to enjoy all the breeze, it’s very nice,” said Charlene Oliver, a beachgoer from Starke.

“I’m just out here to enjoy myself, put my feet in the water and that’s about it,” said Brad Goodman from Jacksonville.

“Put safety first, we want everyone to have fun, but we want safety first,” said Mayor Chris Hoffman, who was at the lifeguard station Monday morning.

She noted extra guards on duty as the city and volunteer lifesaving corps ended a years-long impasse. Monday was the first day both entities are working together again, beefing up the staff and resources available.

”They are working in tandem to add additional guards to our busiest areas right up here in downtown Jacksonville Beach,” Hoffman said.

Ocean Rescue Lt. Maxwell Ervanian had this advice for beachgoers: Swim within your limits, if in doubt stay out, swim with a buddy and only swim near lifeguards.

Matias Mata, 7, who’s visiting from South Carolina, knows how important listening to lifeguards’ advice is.

“If you go deep, deep, no one is going to save you,” he said. “Because the lifeguards don’t know if you’re there...I just swim over there with my family.”

MORE: How to survive a rip current

There was a moderate risk of rip currents on Monday evening. And remember, if you’re caught in one, don’t panic. Try to stay calm and swim parallel to the shore. They’re usually less than a few dozen yards wide.

About the Authors:

Lifetime Jacksonville resident anchors the 8 and 9 a.m. weekday newscasts and is part of the News4Jax I-Team.