SAND KEY – A father and son snorkeling trip took a tragic turn Monday. The son drowned in 10 feet of water 150 yards off the northern tip of Sand Key Park.
Christopher Hidalgo, 14, who lived in Brooksville with his mother, Tammy Hidalgo, was visiting his father, Wayne Hidalgo of Belleair Beach, for the three-day Fourth of July weekend. They decided to go snorkeling in the father’s sport fishing boat. As they prepared to return, they discovered that the anchor was snagged on some rocks.
Christopher dove down to retrieve it, but his leg got tangled in the anchor line. When Christopher failed to surface, Wayne cut the rope in hopes of freeing him. He also called a 911 operator, who alerted the appropriate agencies.
The call came in to the U.S. Coast Guard station on Sand Key at 10:01 a.m. Petty Officer Adam Parsons and his crew jumped into a 25-foot RBS boat, normally used for homeland security, and sped to the scene.
“There were some good Samaritans pointing down to where they could see the young man under the water,” Parsons recalled. “There was also a man, either the boy’s father or grandfather, standing on the rock jetty, pointing to where he went down.”
Just then, Parsons spotted some Clearwater firefighters approaching on Jet Skis. Fearing that the propeller of their large boat might further injure Christopher, the Coast Guardsmen stood by, ready to assist, while the firefighters attempted the actual rescue.
But their efforts were hampered by the swift currents, which were running through Clearwater Pass at four or five knots. Eventually, it took three lifeguards and seven divers to free Christopher, who had been underwater 20 minutes by that time. He was placed on a sled behind a jet ski and towed to the beach, where rescuers unsuccessfully attempted CPR. He was transported to Largo Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead on arrival at 11:23 a.m. His death has shaken even hardened members of the emergency services.
“There were some heroes there, even though the boy died,” said Clearwater police spokesman Wayne Shelor. “It’s a sad story.”
“I believe my crew and I are going to go to the funeral and pay our respects,” Parsons said.
But as of Tuesday, the body had not been released to the family because funeral arrangements were still pending, according to a spokeswoman for the Pinellas County Medical Examiner’s Office.
Marine safety experts say it is never a good idea to dive after a stuck anchor. But they say Wayne Hidalgo did the right thing by staying in the boat and summoning help. If he had dived in after Christopher, they say, he might have become a second casualty.