MIAMI BEACH (CBS4) – A Miami Beach woman who barely survived some deadly rip currents that claimed the life of a friend is speaking out, saying she wished she had checked the forecast more carefully and thanking the Miami Beach Fire Rescue divers who “risked their lives.”
“I feel terrible that I went out there and these fire rescue divers risked their lives for us,” said Susan Anzalone in an interview with CBS4’s Peter D’Oench.
“I’m extremely grateful for what these divers did,” she said. “I usually check the “rips,” the rip currents before going out. I didn’t do that. We went out and thought we were safe. We were not. And he was taken out.”
Anzalone said she and her companion, 56-year-old George Knott from Sacramento, California, had just finished working out and decided to go for a swim around 7:20 Sunday night in the area of her condominium at 77th Street and Collins Avenue.
Knott was in good physical shape. The retired physics professor was also a rock climbing instructor.
“We got out there and I saw he was struggling and having trouble staying afloat,” Anzalone said. She told D’Oench, “I swam over to him and spoke to him and he said he was having trouble. Then I got tired and was having trouble. So I swam back to shore and called 911 for help.”
“I credit a good Samaritan with helping me get ashore,” she said. “I usually check for alerts about rip currents. I wish I had. But we thought it was ok. We went swimming earlier. Rip currents are not anything to mess around with.”
“He was such a great guy. He was such a lively guy,” said Anzalone. “He was 56 but he was like a kid.”
Knott was taken to Mt. Sinai Hospital on Miami Beach but did not survive.
Anzalone told D’Oench, “The fire rescue divers were incredible, using all sorts of ropes and buoys. It was too late most likely by the time they got there. They were all extremely brave.”
Meanwhile, a second team of Miami Beach Fire Rescue divers was called out to rescue a Good Samaritan who had gone in to the surf to try to save Knott.
Diver Tomas Vinuela and his partner Sean Calpini rescued the unidentified man, who Anzalone said was in his 40s.
Vinuela, 31, who has been a firefighter-paramedic for “1 years and 3 months” told D’Oench said he nearly drowned when a safety rope from a rescue buoy wrapped around his neck.
“I told him hang on to the buoy and then the rope got tangled and started to pull me down,” said Vinuela. “I did what I could to get it off my neck.”
Vinuela was hospitalized at Mt. Sinai for several hours after swallowing too much salt water and after receiving a rope burn on his left thumb.
“It’s what I am trained to do and I do it,” said Vinuela, who is part of an elite team of rescue divers in the Miami Beach Fire Department who are trained for emergencies like this latest incident.
“You have to be very careful with these rip currents,” said Miami Beach Fire Department spokesman Adonis Garcia. “These currents can be very dangerous and very powerful.”