SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – The search for a Utah man ended Friday morning after he was found unresponsive and recovered by a lifeguard from the ‘Balneario’ beach in Fajardo, Puerto Rico.
Recovered is Ben Kerbs, 52, from Utah, who reportedly was last seen alive by his wife while paddling out from Playa Escondida (Hidden Beach) in Fajardo, Puerto Rico. Kerbs was wearing turquoise swim trunks.
Coast Guard watchstanders at Sector San Juan received a 911 call at 1:53 p.m. Thursday, reporting the distress.
Watchstanders directed the launch of an MH-60T Jayhawk helicopter from Air Station Borinquen to search, while Coast Guard and Puerto Rico Police Joint Forces of Rapid Action surface assets were unable to reach the area due to the heavy sea state and surf conditions which exceeded vessel safety parameters. Puerto Rico Emergency Management Bureau as well as multiple Municipal Emergency Management Offices throughout the northeastern area of the island also responded.
During search efforts Thursday afternoon, two male lifeguards who attempted to rescue Kerbs were soon overcome by dangerous sea state conditions and required rescue assistance. The Coast Guard helicopter diverted to the lifeguard’s position and safely hoisted them onboard. Following the rescue of the lifeguards, they both reported seeing Kerbs’ body face down and unresponsive in the water within the reef area.
“We extend our most heartfelt condolences to the family and loved ones of Ben Kerbs, may they find hope and strength during this most difficult time,” said Capt. José E. Díaz, commander of Coast Guard Sector San Juan. “I caution anyone going to the beach this weekend that there are life threatening rip currents throughout the eastern and northern coasts of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Water conditions are dangerous even for even the strongest of swimmers and surfers. Most beaches on the island do not have lifeguards, it is crucial people maintain situational awareness and notify authorities when you see signs of trouble, this could save a life.”
Puerto Rico multi-agency search and rescue teams used personnel and drone equipment to monitor the coastline from Carolina to Ceiba, Puerto Rico.
“Our deepest condolences to the family of Ben Kerbs,” said Nino Correa, commissioner of the Puerto Rico Emergency Management Bureau. “Our rescue teams from PREMB, state, municipal and federal authorities worked hard and as a team to find and recover his body. In cases like this, we do not rest until we can save the life of the person in need or find the body to bring closure to the family involved. Also, we remind people that there is a high risk of dangerous rip currents so no one should visit our beaches, at least until Sunday.”
Coast Guard and local agencies participating in the search were:
Coast Guard assets and Emergency Response Agencies participating in this case:
- MH-60T Jayhawk helicopters from Air Station Borinquen
- Coast Guard Sector San Juan watchstanders
- Puerto Rico Police Joint Forces of Rapid Action
- Puerto Rico Emergency Management Bureau
- Municipal Emergency Management Offices from Carolina, Canovanas, Loiza, Luquillo, Fajardo, and Ceiba.
- Customs and Border Protection (AMO)
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