13 swimmers swept away in current rescued off Norton Point beach

13 swimmers swept away in current rescued off Norton Point beach

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This photo from Google Earth shows the Norton Point breach as it appeared earlier in the year. — Photo courtesy of Google Earth

Updated 11 am Friday, July 26, 2013

In one frightening hour Wednesday afternoon, South Beach lifeguards, and members of the Edgartown fire and shellfish departments rescued three groups of swimmers, 13 in all, from strong currents off Norton Point Beach. There were no injuries.

Four on duty lifeguards were the first on the scene. Lifeguards Billy Reagan, Sam Stedmach, and Ryan Leandro responded from their posts on all terrain vehicles (ATV’s) and swam through the breach to reach the swimmers. Head guard Kurstin Meehan also responded on a paddleboard. The guards remained with the stranded swimmers until the two town boats arrived.

“It was just coincidence that these three different groups needed to be rescued at the same time,” Edgartown Police Chief Tony Bettencourt told The Times in a telephone call late Wednesday.

The Island communications center received the first call at 3:23 pm, Chief Bettencourt said. Two men were in trouble in the water, swept up in the current that flows through the breach in the barrier beach that separates Katama Bay from the Atlantic Ocean.

Two other men who set out to help the first pair then found themselves in distress. Coincidentally, another group of nine swimmers also got in trouble in the strong current. “We ended up taking a total of 13 people out of the water,” Mr. Bettencourt said. “Eight went on the fire boat, and the rest went on to the shellfish boat.”

Although the day was clear and the water appeared calm, the water emptying out of Katama Bay was “ripping” through the breach, he said.

Although signs warn of strong currents, it appears that the swimmers were riding the flow from the bay to a beach and misjudged the strength of the outflow and were swept past their target and out into the white water, Mr. Bettencourt said.

A Coast Guard helicopter from Air Station Cape Cod arrived but was not needed.

“We practice this. We have a plan in place for breach rescues,” Chief Bettencourt said. “And everything went smoothly. I mean we were able to get 13 people out of the water. I don’t think it gets any better than that.”

This article was updated to reflect the role of lifeguards in the rescue.


  1. From my understanding Edgartowns fire boat is still out of service for some reason. They were able to save all 13 people without that boat shows that these people with the correct training can operate efficiently without expensive new equipment. Good Job and thank you !

    1. It was on the 12:00 boat off Island 10 July. Between the free hull and Ernie Jr.’s donations I’m not sure how expensive it was. Maybe were talking about different boats here, not sure.
      Regardless, 13 saves in one day is pretty awesome. I’ve seen what happens in a blink of an eye when people get swept out 1/4 mile when ponds are opened. looks like fun until….

      1. I wonder what the deal is with this beach when it comes to signage liability. I mean the county owns the beach and the trusties run it. I think the beach should be taken from the county and given to the trusties or the town of Edgartown and leased to the trusties as it is now, the county should not have their fingers in something like this.

        1. Not sure if you can take beach from the county. The Trustees sell the permits and are supposed to manage the beach. Instead they rely on everyone else for support. Maybe the town should start sending them bills for the services provided.

  2. 13 people in one hour. Maybe they should not allow swimming at the breach. It’s easy to say swim at your own risk, but there would be hell to pay if those 13 had drowned.

  3. Have made a film on the Breach. Looking at the current in the now strait that is the breach I said to a friend “very inviting”. But I knew a man died a while ago thinking he could swim in the current. The Trustees have put up DANGER signs and I might suggest that now they need a person there all day to prevent people from trying to float in a

    3-4 kt current which ends in a Chop that turns you around like a washing machine.
    I know it’s $$ but better than being litigated. Try the fishing, it’s the best.

    1. It’s costing plenty now for the police, fire and shell fish depts, plus the Coast Guard helicopter. The Trustees are the only ones charging for permits and don’t seem to be providing any service. Peoples lives are at risk and the beach is filled with litter.

      1. Plus 4 life guards from South Beach. Trustees are strictly for the birds. If it was left up to them 13 people probably would have drowned.

        They are well aware of how dangerous the breach can be and yet they continue to let people swim at their own risk. They should either provide protection or close the breach for swimming.

  4. This article is missing some facts on the incident or there was another rescue at South Beach. There were 2 groups swept out at Wasque. A group of 4 and a solo swimmer. The solo swimmer was assisted by a man with a boogie board and both became stranded offshore and were rescued by Edgartown fire boat or Harbormaster, however the other group of 4 was rescued by bystanders on the beach who used the surfboard and swim buoy provided on the beach to rescue them. They reached them and were bringing them to the shore when the lifeguards and boat showed up. This was 25 minutes into the rescue and the swimmers were almost back to the sandbar at that point. The lifeguards and Fire dept had a good response, but it took 25 minutes for anyone to reach Wasque.I believe that if bystanders hadn’t gone out to rescue them, we may have had a different outcome.