OCEAN CITY, N.J. — Mohammed Khalil drove down from Clementon with seven other family members, back to the beach near the Ocean City-Longport bridge where his 24-year-old brother went missing Sunday after swimming in rough waters.
The family members spoke to television cameras, then walked along the water’s edge, before they returned to the parking lot, sitting on curbs in the hot sun to await any further word about Jabed Ikbal, 24, who split his time between Clementon and Brooklyn, N.Y., Khalil said.
“He was a very good man,” Khalil said Monday, his voice breaking. “He always has family that loves him. My mother and father, they love him. That’s all I can say.”
Ikbal was the third man in less than a week presumed to have drowned at the Jersey Shore. On Friday, another Brooklyn man, Jalan Alston, 18, went missing off the beach in Ventnor, where he and two friends had gone in at about 6:20 p.m., after the lifeguards had left for the day. On Friday, Gustave Vincolato, 77, of Folcroft, was pronounced dead at AtlantiCare Medical Center after being found unconscious in shallow water at a beach in Atlantic City.
Both Ikbal and Alston were described as succumbing to rough seas after helping others to safety. Alston’s body was found in Atlantic City on Saturday night, about a mile from where he had been pulled under rough surf left by Tropical Storm Faye.
Jayda Smith, of Ventnor, one of Alston’s friends, described a harrowing few minutes when the three got pulled under by rough surf, with Alston helping Smith and their friend to safety, jeopardizing his own life in the process. She said she had met Alston three years ago in a party chat on XBox, but that the visit to Ventnor was the first time the two friends had met in person.
“The waves were calm at the time and they have never been to the beach, so we all went into the water,” Smith wrote in a post that was shared on Facebook by Smith’s mother. “While enjoying our time in the water the waves were starting to get a bit intense so we decided to get out. Within that moment a rip current had formed around us. Jalan jumped in after me, grabbed my arm to pull me closer to him. He noticed the [undertow] was pulling him now, too, put his hand on my back, and pushed me over the wave I was stuck in. By doing so, he put himself in my spot.”
She said Alston and the third friend, Sierra Williams, continued to struggle in the waves, but only the friend was able to get out of the ocean. “Sierra told me there was a break in the waves for a moment, and he shook his head at her,” Smith wrote. “Sierra tried one more time, but Jalan didn’t allow her and used the rest of his strength to push her over just like he did with me.”
“Jalan and I both graduated from high school this year,” Smith wrote. “He is my best friend and he saved my life.”
Despite a response that drew police, fire and beach patrol from Ventnor and neighboring towns within minutes, Alston was not able to be rescued. His body was recovered in Atlantic City on Sunday. Ventnor Mayor Beth Holtzman, who said she witnessed the body of a 12-year-old drowning victim wash up on the beach as a child, said, “my heart is crushed.”
David Funk, a captain of the Ventnor Beach patrol, said that discussions were under way to keep a crew of lifeguards on the beach to respond to any calls for help after hours, but that the beach would remain closed after 6 p.m.
Funk said this season has been busier than in past summers, as the coronavirus shutdowns leave families with few other summer activities.
“Especially on the weekends, the beaches have been pretty busy since the beginning of June,” Funk said. “With kids not being in school and sports being canceled, the beaches have been an outlet for everybody.”
He said the center of Tropical Storm Faye passed over the town Friday and the sun came out, giving people “a false sense of security.”
“The fire department had people out within minutes,” he said. “The ocean is a very unpredictable thing. As soon as somebody goes under for the last time and stays under, it becomes extremely challenging to find and pinpoint that location. We had a very, very rough ocean.”
He said guards stress constantly not to swim after they leave. “Unfortunately, when people go into the water they are at the mercy of the ocean,” Funk said. “People think the ocean is a big swimming pool. It’s got teeth and it bites.”
In Ocean City, the beach by the bridge is always unguarded, but people swim there in the Great Egg Harbor Bay anyway, according to neighbor Kathleen Maguire.
Ocean City officials said multiple fire departments and the Coast Guard responded Sunday night.
“The initial investigation indicates that Ikbal entered the water to assist two other family members who were in trouble,” Ocean City officials said in a statement. “The two made it safely to the beach, but Ikbal did not. Strong daily tidal currents create dangerous conditions at the beach where Ikbal disappeared.”
They said the search for Ikbal was to continue Monday with Ocean City Beach Patrol, Ocean City Police Department and Ocean City Fire Department personnel and equipment.