Tourist from France drowns in rip current off South Beach after pre-dawn swim with wife

06/10/2013 8:30 AM

06/13/2013 8:43 AM

A French couple celebrating their final night in Miami Beach with an early-morning swim had their vacation turn to tragedy when a rip current pulled the man from shore.

He never came back.

Lea Guillaume, 32, and her husband, Frederic, 40, were visiting from their small hometown of Frambouhans, France.

Along with two other friends, the couple went into the ocean near Second Street and Ocean Drive for a 3:30 a.m. swim on Monday, according to a police report.

The rough surf was difficult to stand in, with strong waves crashing into the swimmers.

Winds of 15-20 mph combined with two-to-three-foot waves caused conditions for rip currents, said meteorologist Brad Diehl with the National Weather Service.

Lea Guillaume, and friends Olivier Zapotiny and Alexis Hodent, both 44, fought the current pulling them in and were able to get out of the water.

Frederic Guillaume could not.

“His friends said he was a good swimmer, but apparently not good enough for the evening and the riptides,” Miami Beach police spokeswoman Vivian Hernandez told Miami Herald news partner CBS4.

His friends called police as soon as they realized Frederic Guillaume was not surfacing.

The Coast Guard responded with air and rescue searches beginning at 4:30 a.m.

They were still searching when his body resurfaced hours later.

A witness in the area saw the body when it washed ashore at about 6:30 a.m. near Sixth Street and Ocean Drive. Birds were gathering in the area. He flagged down a sanitation worker who alerted police.

According to Lea Guillaume’s Facebook page, the couple had been married for four years. The couple had three children, ages 6, 4 and 6 months, a French journalist reported. Frederic Guillaume and the other two men were all insurance agents with AXA, a French financial insurance advising agency.

They planned to return to France on Monday, according to the police report.

The consul general of France in Miami is helping the family with paperwork and transportation of the body back home.

“We support the family in this very difficult situation,” said spokeswoman Nathalie Cluzet-Bertot.

The rough surf and rip currents also claimed the life of a 15-year-old James Clark at John U. Lloyd State Park in South Broward on Memorial Day weekend.

“More people die in rip currents in Florida than in hurricanes, tornados or lightning,” said Bob Ebaugh, a National Weather Service specialist.

Red flags warned swimmers of rip currents all weekend. Monday morning, they were still flying on South Beach, said Scott Reynolds, a Miami Beach Ocean Rescue spokesman.

Reynolds urged swimmers to swim near a lifeguard at all times, heed warning flags and read information at lifeguard stands.

There were dozens of rescues from rip currents over the weekend and several rescues Monday, Reynolds said.

“Summer is coming,” he said. “We are going to have great, perfect days, and we’ll have some rough weather.”

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