WILDWOOD, New Jersey (WPVI) -- The search for a missing swimmer in Wildwood, New Jersey has been suspended, officials with the U.S. Coast Guard Mid-Atlantic said Wednesday afternoon.
The swimmer, a man in his 20s who was last seen on Tuesday afternoon, has not been identified.
"The local response and collaborative efforts of multiple local, state, and private agencies was instrumental in providing maximum coverage of the search area. It is a terribly sad ending and our condolences go out to the family and friends of the young man," said Lt. Dan Nelson, Commanding Officer of Coast Guard Station Cape May.
The search began around 4 p.m. Tuesday when a group of swimmers was in distress at the beach off Andrews Avenue.
The beach isn't fully staffed until later in June, and no lifeguards were on duty.
Wildwood Fire Chief Ernie Troiano III said the swimmers were far beyond the usual distance from shore. He says it's likely the swimmers were caught in a rip current.
One swimmer was able to get out on his own.
Responding crews were there in minutes and rescued two more.
"One was at least 200 yards out. The other was probably about 125 or so yards out," Chief Troiano said.
"We immediately saw them; crews split up - one went after the one victim, another crew went after another victim. (They) brought them in on boards," Troiano explained.
But crews never had a visual on the fourth swimmer.
A friend told first responders the last time he saw him.
"He said they were trying to get back in. He was on the sandbar, and his friend was in front of him, and as a breaker came, he said he saw him, and then he didn't see him again," said Troiano.
According to the United States Lifesaving Association, an average of 100 deaths are caused by rip currents in the U.S. each year.
Wildwood Beach Patrol Chief Steve Stocks says it's by far the most common rescue his lifeguards make.
"When the guards are there, they're literally performing thousands of preventative measures to stop rescues from happening and even with that, rescues still occur," said Stocks.
A helicopter hovered overhead as the search began.
The U.S. Coast Guard, state police, and local boats were all deployed.
Rescue teams formed a human chain and slowly walked through the water, sweeping the sand with their feet.
A sea tow was also brought in to use its sonar. A diver was lowered into the water after the sonar got a hit, but the search turned up nothing.
"There is a rip (current) there. So more than likely the individuals were pulled out in the rip, and either tried to fight it or get back in and didn't swim parallel to the beach, tried to swim out of it. But either way, they definitely got overcome," said Troiano.
Troiano urged people not to swim when there are no lifeguards present.