Local

Photo of missing US Marine from Mass. released as massive search for him continues in Puerto Rico

LUQUILLO, Puerto Rico — A massive air and water search is continuing Friday in Puerto Rico, two days after a United States Marine from Massachusetts was swept away amid high surf and life-threatening rip currents at beaches on the island.

U.S. Coast Guard Sector San Juan search-and-rescue crews are supporting the Puerto Rico Emergency Management Bureau, Policía de Puerto Rico, and Luquillo Surf Rescue in the ongoing search for Corporal Samuel Wanjiru, 26, of Worcester, in the beach area of La Pared in Luquillo, officials said Friday.

Coast Guard crews and watchstanders, including a 33-foot aircraft, are scouring the shoreline for Wanjiru, who hasn’t been seen since Wednesday afternoon.

“High surf and life-threatening rip currents will continue affecting western northern and eastern beaches in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands,” the Coast Guard warned. “Anyone thinking of visiting the beach is urged to stay out of the water until conditions subside and monitor US National Weather Service San Juan Puerto Rico for updates.”

With search efforts ramped up, the United States Marine Corps released a photo of Wanjiru, as well as a statement describing the servicemember.

“Wanjiru is a native of Worcester, Massachusetts, and serves as a Motor Vehicle Operator with MWSS-472. At the time of his disappearance, Wanjiru was not in an active-duty status or conducting military operations,” a USMC spokesperson said. “4th Marine Aircraft Wing is concerned for the Marine’s welfare and is in communication with Wanjiru’s family, local authorities, and the U.S. Coast Guard while the search for Wanjiru continues.”

Before Wanjiru was reported missing, the Coast Guard said an MH-60T Jayhawk helicopter crew responded to a report of a person in distress in Montones Beach in Isabela and found a man unresponsive. They were later pronounced dead.

“This month has been deadly when it comes to beach drownings in the area of Puerto Rico,” said Capt. Jose E. Díaz, Commander of U.S. Coast Guard Sector San Juan. “During this long holiday weekend, I urge locals and visitors to pay close attention to the weather conditions and warnings from the National Weather Service and that they don’t go into the water when visiting beaches in the west, north, and eastern coasts of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands until conditions subside.”

Díaz added, “There are several hundred miles of open ocean beaches which are extremely dangerous in the present conditions, and most do not have lifeguards. People need to realize that the situation is serious enough to limit our ability to respond to search and rescue cases with surface vessels without further endangering our crews and assets. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families who have lost their loved ones to the sea, we hope they find strength during this most difficult time.”

“You’re talking about sea state conditions of 10 to 12-foot seas and life-threatening rip currents,” U.S. Coast Guard Public Affairs Officer Ricardo Castrodad said. “Imagine us not being able to go out and rescue someone with a surface asset. That’s how seriously bad these weather conditions are.

In a Facebook post, the Puerto Rico State Agency for Emergency and Disaster said, “We reiterate the call to citizens to NOT go to beaches this week because they are dangerous due to high tide.”

Helicopters, boats, and dive teams are being utilized in the search for Wanjiru.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates as more information becomes available.

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