High surf washes visitors into ocean at Acadia National Park

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Date: August 24, 2009
Contact: Stuart West, 207-288-8770

Bar Harbor, Maine---On Sunday, August 23, a large wave washed over a crowd of visitors gathered along the coast along Acadia National Park’s Ocean Drive, sweeping seven people into the ocean and injuring others. 

Acadia National Park Superintendent Sheridan Steele was among those along the shoreline, viewing the storm swells associated with Hurricane Bill. “Like many residents and visitors, I went down to the Thunder Hole area about 11:30 a.m. as high tide approached to see the surf and take pictures. Hundreds were lining the shore and Ocean Drive to see the power of nature and spectacular waves and splash.” 

In anticipation of Hurricane Bill, according to Steele, an increased number of park rangers and signs were in place to warn visitors of potentially dangerous conditions. As surf conditions rose earlier in the day, the Sand Beach and the Thunder Hole viewing platform were closed and park staff warned people to move back from the water as high tide approached.

After several hours of sustained swells of 12-15 feet, a much larger wave hit the coast at 12:00 p.m. and struck a group of approximately twenty people gathered near the closed Thunder Hole viewing area, sweeping seven people into the water. Four were able to climb out on their own and three were carried offshore.

“My wife Barb and I were there among the crowds watching the incredible splash when the largest waves hit,” said Steele. “Very quickly, we began receiving multiple reports of injuries and people in the water.”

Park staff immediately treated injuries and notified the U.S. Coast Guard, which responded with a vessel and two aircraft. The Maine Marine Patrol also responded with a patrol boat and assisted in the search. Eleven people were transported to the Mount Desert Island Hospital.

The U.S. Coast Guard recovered Peter Axlerod, 55, of New York City and Simone Pelletier, 12, of Belfast, Maine from the water within one hour of the incident. Both were transported to the Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor for treatment of their injuries. Axlerod’s 7 year old daughter, Clio, was recovered from the water at 3:30 PM and did not survive.

“All of us at Acadia National Park are saddened by the loss of the little girl,” said Steele. “Undoubtedly this situation could have been much worse had we not warned as many people as we did and had it not been for the outstanding response of the park staff and the community. Their quick professional actions saved others.”

Steele also noted the increased wave activity is forecast for the area over the next several days, and appealed to visitors to use extreme caution at all times along the rocky coastline. 

Last updated: February 26, 2015

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