DESTIN — Two people drowned in separate incidents Sunday in what turned out to be a deadly day for swimming in the Gulf of Mexico.
According to the Okaloosa County Sheriff's Office, 50-year-old Alejandro Velazquez, of Little Elm, Texas, drowned after he attempted to rescue his two children from rough waters off of Scenic Highway 98 in Destin.
The man's 13-year-old daughter told authorities that she was swimming with her 11-year-old brother at around 3 p.m. when they began to struggle in the surf. She said their dad came to their aid, but they became separated in the waves. A Destin Beach Safety lifeguard used a rescue buoy to get the children, as well as a 19-year-old swimmer, to safety, but found Velazquez floating face down and unconscious.
He was pulled to shore and lifeguards attempted to save his life, but were unsuccessful.
Beach flags in Destin were yellow on Sunday morning but changed to red in the afternoon, according to the Destin Beach Safety Facebook page. Lifeguards said the flags changed colors "due to a receding tide making the rip currents stronger.
"Please remember the lifeguards are not the 'fun police,'" the agency posted. "We want everyone to enjoy the beach, and stay safe. Our advisements are for your safety."
Later that afternoon another man drowned about 35 miles to the west while swimming off Opal Beach in Santa Rosa County, which is located in the Gulf Islands National Seashore in between Navarre Beach and Pensacola Beach.
Navarre Beach Fire Rescue Chief Danny Fureigh said crews were dispatched to the beach just after 5 p.m. in reference to a drowning. When they arrived, bystanders said there was an approximately 30-year-old man who had been struggling and screaming for help.
Witnesses said the man had gone underwater, but never resurfaced.
Rescue personnel on a personal watercraft searched the area where the man had been seen and found his body at the bottom of the Gulf 10 minutes later in approximately 12 feet of water. After getting him to shore, medics began CPR and were able to get the man’s pulse back.
He was taken via helicopter to Baptist Hospital in Gulf Breeze, where he later died. His identity has not yet been released.
Fureigh said yellow flags were flying on Navarre Beach Sunday afternoon.
The National Weather Service in Mobile had issued a high rip current risk for beaches from Dauphin Island, Alabama, to Destin on Sunday.
Sunday's drownings are the latest in what has been a deadly summer for swimmers in Northwest Florida. Velazquez and the unidentified Opal Beach victim mark the area's 10th and 11th drowning victims this summer throughout Santa Rosa, Okaloosa and Walton counties. In the most recent instance, a 19-year-old Mississippi woman drowned off Okaloosa Island on Aug. 1 while she was swimming in the Gulf with friends at night.
On Monday, authorities urged beach visitors to adhere to the beach flag system and know what to do if caught in a rip tide.
If you're ever caught in a rip tide, lifeguards say it's best to not fight the current — swim parallel to the shore and out of the current, then to shore. If you can't escape, float or tread water. If you need assistance, call or wave to other people.