YORK, Maine — In the late afternoon last Thursday, Aug. 8, the surf was up on Long Sands Beach as it had been all day. Waves were 4 to 5 feet high, and 2.5 to 3 seconds apart, said Jeff Patten, head of the town’s Ocean Rescue Squad. Lifeguards were coming off shift that afternoon, when one of them, Eleanor Cifrino, heard someone in the water yelling “Help! Help!”
Cifrino immediately went into action, said Patten, “doing what she was trained to do.” She grabbed her torpedo float and her flippers and headed into the waves, following the sound of the voice she heard and a bobbing head in the water.
Ultimately, despite efforts by her and several other guards to successfully bring the man to shore, where he received medical aid, Kenneth Frank Lombardo, 42, of Woburn, Mass., was later pronounced dead at York Hospital, a victim of drowning. It is believed to be the first drowning death in York in more than 40 years, and certainly the first in Patten’s 34 years on York’s beaches.
Police this week had no further update on the cause of death and were awaiting the report of the state medical examiner.
Aug. 8 had been a “yellow flag” day, when beachgoers were asked to use caution when in the ocean. Because of the height and rapidity of the waves, there was an undertow. It was just after 4:30 p.m. when the distressed Lombardo called for help. Patten said Cifrino and the other guards acquitted themselves admirably that afternoon.
“I can’t say enough about Eleanor in particular. She was astute enough to realize something was happening. They’re all trained to go in whether they’re on duty or not if someone is in distress, but because of the time of day, she entered the water not knowing if there was going to be back-up,” said Patten.
Fellow lifeguard Jake Lindsay followed close behind her and they swam toward Lombardo, who was 20 to 30 yards away in the water. Patten said while he could see Lombardo’s head from shore, Lombardo was not active, “which meant he was going to need medical care.” So he called dispatch for an ambulance.
When Cifrino and Lindsay arrived, Lombardo was under water. Patten said by then he was not moving. Meanwhile, those large waves were pounding, creating “a very, very difficult situation.” A third lifeguard, Sam DesMarais, was behind them with a board. They were able to hoist Lombardo onto the board and bring him to shore, but they were exhausted by the time they arrived.
Despite efforts of a triage nurse, who was on the beach at the time, and later efforts by the York Ambulance Association paramedics, Lombardo could not be resuscitated.
Patten said there was some chatter on social media about why the jet ski wasn’t deployed. He said he made the call not to do so, saying by the time it had been brought to the ocean and started, the guards would have already been to Lombardo.
Looking back at the incident, Patten called the lifeguards’ actions a textbook response.
“I couldn’t have been more proud of those lifeguards,” he said. “Of course they’re trained, but you always have to wonder will someone panic. But they did an outstanding job. They were heroic and unselfish, and it was phenomenal to see them work.”