ST. PETERSBURG — An 18-year-old Eckerd College student apparently drowned Friday afternoon while paddle boarding with friends.
Jessica Gartenberg, a freshman from St. Louis, Mo., was pronounced dead at Bayfront Medical Center shortly before 3 p.m., authorities said.
Gartenberg and about 20 friends swam out from a dock behind the private school, which has access to the Intracoastal Waterway, at about 2:30 p.m.
At one point, a school attendant noticed Gartenberg swimming back to the dock, St. Petersburg Fire and Rescue Lt. Joel Granata said. Then, he said, the young woman vanished.
Minutes after the attendant called 911, rescuers found Gartenberg, who was not wearing a life jacket, facedown in the water between the college and Maximo Park. The other students, who were paddling ahead of her, did not see what happened.
Authorities ruled the drowning an accident, Granata said.
"Good, experienced swimmers drown in these waters because of sudden strong currents and storms," he said. "It's important for everyone to wear a flotation device and use the buddy system. Find someone to watch and to watch you."
Gartenberg, who arrived on campus about two weeks ago, planned to study marine science, Eckerd officials said. Grief counselors will be available for the school's roughly 1,800 students. A private candlelight vigil will be planned to honor the young woman's memory, said Suzan Harrison, the college's dean of faculty.
"We are just heartbroken," she said. "It's going to take us some time to come to terms with this, but we're putting in place everything we can to provide that support. Our thoughts and our prayers are with Jessie's family."