Matt Tomaszewski of Boston was enjoying an idyllic day on the New Hampshire coast, sitting with his family on their Ocean Drive porch overlooking Seabrook Beach on Sunday afternoon.
That’s when the screams started.
The 29-year-old, who had brought his wife and young child up to visit with his parents, said he heard people in the water yelling for help as he and his father ran down toward the beach.
They didn’t know it at the time, but the cries for help were coming from a group of six people who were struggling in a deadly rip current off the shore. The six swimmers were brought to shore — two by Tomaszewski himself — but one of the swimmers, a 49-year-old Methuen man, was unconscious by the time he was rescued, and pronounced dead at a hospital shortly after.
Another swimmer, a 47-year-old Methuen woman, was also unconscious, and was rushed to Anna Jaques Hospital in Newburyport. She was pronounced dead on Monday, said State Police Officer Nicholas Haroutunian, who is investigating the incident.
In the moment, Tomaszewski was only thinking about what he could do for the people crying for help. The former Division I college basketball player likes to think of himself as an athlete, he said but “nothing could have prepared me for that.”
“It was the toughest thing I’ve ever been through,” Tomaszewski said.
After stopping his father, who suffers from a hurt knee, from going into the ocean, Tomaszewski swam into the water by himself, bringing a paddle board with him.
He splashed a couple hundred feet or so to the swimmers who were furthest away, sucked out into deep water by the current. There he found three swimmers, a man and woman who happened to be friends of Tomaszewski’s family, and another man who appeared to be unconscious.
The three did their best to lift the unconscious man’s head and torso onto the paddle board.
“The two of them were in shock,” Tomaszewski said. “They were screaming for me to help their friend.”
As they began kicking toward shore, a large wave swept the unconscious man several feet away and out of sight.
It was then that Tomaszewski said he knew he had to get the couple back to shore, with or without him.
“I looked, and there appeared to be a wave that was about to break,” Tomaszewski said. “I got them both on the board . . . and pushed with everything I had.”
He hoped, he said, that the couple could ride the board — and the wave — onto the beach and safety while he made his way to land on his own.
Alone and without a board, with no rescue boats in sight, Tomaszewski used all his remaining strength to swim to the beach, where his wife and child were waiting for him.
“They thought I was lost,” Tomaszewski said. “They were the only things I [was] thinking about getting back to.”
A witness to the rescue, who did not wish to be identified, said Tomaszewski went out of sight for about 10 minutes in the choppy water.
A first responder arrived in time to offer him assistance as he began to climb out of the water. Tomaszewski told him that one man was still caught in the rip current.
A lifeguard would later find the missing man some 200 yards down the beach, about a half hour after police received the first emergency call, said the witness, who did not wish to be identified. The victim appeared to be dead by the time he was taken out of the water, she said.
One of the survivors would later tell Tomaszewski they had been standing in only waist-deep water when the rip current pulled them away from the beach. Though he’s seen rip currents before, Tomaszewski had never been a part of anything quite like Sunday’s current, he said.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly described the rip firstname.lastname@example.org