Bodies of 2 Hunting Island swimmers identified; 1 still missing; search to resume

mmcnab@beaufortgazette.comJuly 15, 2013 

Rescue officials and park personnel gather on the beach at the campground area of Hunting Island State Park on Monday as the search for the last of three swimmers who disappeared in the surf on Sunday continues. The bodies of the missing swimmer's two companions have already been recovered from the waters around the island.

JAY KARR — Staff photo Buy Photo

The body of one of three swimmers, who disappeared after strong tides pulled them away from shore at Hunting Island State Park, was found Monday as recovery efforts continued.

At 10 a.m. Monday, Chesnee resident Tiem Mok, 38, was found by a beachgoer who notified park rangers and the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office, said County Coroner Ed Allen.

Mok was found near waterfront cabins at the southern tip of Hunting Island, about two miles south from where he, his son and a 17-year-old relative disappeared in strong tides Sunday, said Lady's Island-St. Helena Fire District Assistant Chief Scott Goneke.

Mok's body was the second recovered. At about 6 p.m. Sunday, rescue workers pulled the body of his son, 16-year-old Nathan Mok, from the waters along the beach.

Both were taken to the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston for autopsies.

The Sheriff's Office has not released the name of the third missing swimmer but said he is a 17-year-old relative of the Moks from Philadelphia. Authorities are attempting to notify his immediate family.

The victims were vacationing in the campground on Hunting Island. According to police reports and witness accounts, Tiem and Nathan Mok, the unidentified relative and a 14-year-old girl were in the ocean using a boogie board when it slipped out from under them.

No one in the group could swim, officials said.

A witness, Glenn White of Gaffney, said the group was more than 300 yards from shore when the boogie board shot out from under them. White and others tried to reach them to help but couldn't because of strong currents.

The girl was able to get closer to shore by turning over on her back and paddling. When she got close enough, people on the beach helped her out of the water.

White said the girl told him she had tried to grab one of the men in the group by the wrist after they fell off the boogie board, but she wasn't able to hang on to him in the current.

With the third swimmer still missing, recovery efforts will continue Tuesday.

An S.C. Department of Natural Resources boat and plane were used to searched for the missing swimmers Monday, combing the southern areas of the island until about 2 p.m., DNR Sgt. Michael Paul Thomas said.

Thomas said the DNR plane had to refuel, ending Monday's search, but it would return Tuesday if the missing swimmer hadn't been found.

A U.S. Coast Guard helicopter also made several passes over the beach during the day. Goneke said the helicopter crew volunteered to search the area during its normal flying pattern, which stretches between Tybee Island and Charleston.

In addition to officials from the Lady's Island-St. Helena Fire District, members of the Fripp Island Fire Department and a county sheriff's deputy assisted.

Amid the police and rescue personnel on the beach Monday, people continued to use the beach, but few ventured into the water.

West Columbia resident Dwane Shumpert said he had noticed how rough the water was when his family visited the nearby lighthouse.

"I knew that it was a dangerous place to be," he said.

His wife, Jennie Shumpert, said waves were breaking far out from the beaches Sunday. Shumpert said the water looked "terrifying," but she noted that no one was there to stop people from going in.

"There's no signage for rip currents, and there's no lifeguard on duty here," she said. "I wonder if there were warnings up, that this could have all been avoided."

Headed to the beach Monday afternoon, the Shumperts said their four children weren't allowed to go far into the water.

"There's going to be no swimming today," Dwane Shumpert said. "They can get their feet wet, but that's about it. We decided that before we came to the beach."

Follow reporter Matt McNab at twitter.com/IPBG_Matt.

Related content:

Body of 2nd swimmer recovered off Hunting Island; 1 still missing, July 14, 2013

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