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Two people drown in rip current off Anna Maria Island

ANNA MARIA — On a beach trip from the Tampa area, a brother and sister drowned and two other family members were injured Thursday afternoon off Anna Maria Island after rip currents in the Gulf of Mexico reportedly pulled them under.

Josefina Pardo, 71, and her brother Gerardo Hernandez were pronounced dead at Blake Medical Center, according to a Manatee County Sheriff's Office report. Hernandez's age was unknown, but he was believed to be in his 60s, the report said.

Pardo's 78-year-old husband and 54-year-old son were in stable condition at Blake Medical Center later Thursday after they attempted to rescue the victims, according to Capt. Larry Leinhauser with Manatee County Public Safety. The names of Pardo's husband and son were not released.

"We were told all of them knew how to swim, but the currents can be strong out there," said sheriff's spokesman Dave Bristow.

A neighbor said Pardo and her husband had lived in Lutz for years.

The couple had recently returned from a cruise their three sons had bought for them, said the neighbor, Sandra Roser, 62, a teacher.

In the recent past, Pardo lost her brother-in-law and her mother. She had cared for her mother at the Lutz house after a broken hip, and Roser said she often would see the two of them walking up and down the street, getting some fresh air.

But Roser said she wouldn't describe Pardo as an outdoors person.

"I can't even imagine Josefina going swimming," she said.

No one answered the door at Pardo's home Thursday night.

The drownings occurred near the 1000 block of Sycamore Avenue, just off Gulf Drive and north of the Sandbar Restaurant. The county's emergency communications department received a 911 call from the beach at 3:23 p.m., according to a spokesman.

Leinhauser said Pardo was floating on a raft while her husband and Hernandez swam nearby. The three had drifted away from shore. Hernandez began struggling with a rip current, and the couple's son, who was in the water but closer to shore, called out for help.

Pardo fell off the raft while trying to help Hernandez. Her husband and son suffered extreme fatigue as they struggled to rescue the victims and had to be helped to shore, Leinhauser said.

The victims who died suffered cardiac arrest, he said.

Michael McIntosh, a 48-year-old former lifeguard visiting from Toronto, was spending the day with his wife and three sons nearby when he heard the call for help.

He said he helped pull two of the victims from the water after borrowing a small board to float on.

McIntosh, who has visited Anna Maria Island for the past three years, said the current was much stronger Wednesday than it was Thursday. But the fatalities point out the dangers of being out in the water for long periods.

"When you're over your head and get tired, game over," McIntosh said.

Times staff writer Robbyn Mitchell contributed to this report.

Two people drown in rip current off Anna Maria Island 08/12/10 [Last modified: Friday, August 13, 2010 8:09am]
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