Authorities search for missing swimmer at Folly Beach

A "No Swimming" flag was flying at the lifeguard station on Folly Beach Sunday as authorities searched for a swimmer who disappeared in the turblulent surf.

Thousands of beach-goers watched as authorities used rescue boats and a helicopter to try to find a missing swimmer in the surf off Folly Beach today.

Charleston County lifeguards, Folly Beach Public Safety officers and the crew of a Coast Guard helicopter searched in the water off the Folly Beach Pier for a man who reportedly went out past the breakers around 1 p.m. and did not return.

Swimming was banned on the beach because of the turbulent waters stirred up by Tropical Storm Beryl.

Police said a person was reported to be in trouble in the wind-whipped waves in the vicinity of West 2nd Street about 1:30 p.m..

A Coast Guard helicopter could be seen searching the shoreline from near the Stono River past the pier. The chopper moved up and down the coast for more than an hour, sweeping the waters from Stono Inlet to the island’s commercial district, which was jammed with Memorial Day Weekend crowds.

Charleston County lifeguards on jet skis also looked for the missing person, described as white and middle-aged. A Charleston County EMS ambulance was parked at the pier.

Beachgoers stood idle, threw footballs or lounged on the sand as lifeguards flew the no-swimming flag. Thousands of visitors were standing on the shore instead of wading in the waves, whipped up by the storm that had passed South Carolina on its way to expected landfall tonight near the Georgia/Florida border.

Folly Beach police said they could not immediately provide information on the status of the search.

Mayor Tim Goodwin said he heard the search was called off about 5 p.m.

“They hadn’t found anybody as far as I’ve heard,” Goodwin said.

He said officials were not sure of the man’s identity. No one had been reported missing, he said.

The incident began when someone alerted lifeguards that a swimmer was in trouble, he said.

During the search, several lifeguards could be seen swimming the area while wearing flippers and using flotation devices. Some searched on jet skis.

At one point during the search, the Coast Guard helicopter hovered low over the ocean near the pier as if someone had been spotted but it moved on to continue searching other areas.

Goodwin said the city and other beach communities invest in public education about dangerous currents.

“People just will not stay out of that water,” he said.