Eyewitnesses along the Intracoastal Waterway said the man went under around 11 a.m.
Tim Gorski was outside at the time, on his waterfront property on Waterside Drive, when he saw a white-and-blue sailboat approaching the George Bishop Parkway bridge. There was a couple on the boat, a man and a woman, and they were talking to someone in the water.
“As they came up to him, they said, ‘Buddy, are you alright?’” Gorski said. “He said yes.”
The boat got closer. The man was not alright.
He yelled out again to the couple, and then his head disappeared under the dark, swift current, Gorski said.
First responders from multiple agencies spent hours on the waterway Friday afternoon looking for the man, using sonar and dive teams to search. Around 12:30 p.m., Lt. Jon Evans with the Myrtle Beach Fire Department said the chances of recovering the man alive were waning.
Brandi Hannon, another Waterside resident, stood near the waterway with her fiancee a few minutes later, watching the scene as a handful of boats from the police and fire departments gathered under the George Bishop bridge with their lights flashing. They were clustered around the same sailboat, Hannon said, that had passed the struggling man.
She worried that the man might have been carried far away by that point, at 12:45 p.m.
“We take our boat out there all the time, and it was rough,” Hannon said. The current can be very strong in the middle of the waterway, she said.
At about 2 p.m., Capt. Mark Nugent of Horry County Fire Rescue said searchers continued to look for the body.
“It’s too long for a rescue, unfortunately,” he said.
Gorski did not know the man in the water, which he described as tanned or medium-skinned. Gorski, Hannon and other residents said that a wooded parcel directly across from their homes is the site of a large encampment of homeless people.
Gorski was able to point out one yellow tent, peeking through the trees across the water.
“I've seen them swimming or bathing before,” he said.
Several things had gone right early in the search, Nugent said. The U.S. Coast Guard was called by the couple on the sailboat. Gorski called 911 immediately, at 11:07 a.m., he said.
Coast Guard were able to arrive quickly because workers had already been responding to a different search in Murrells Inlet. The agency’s orange helicopter continued to scan the opaque waters below well into the afternoon.
By 3:00 p.m., divers were taken out of the water as thunderstorms rolled into the area. At 3:30, all operations were suspended for the rest of the day.
“A lot of things happened fast to give this man a chance, but unfortunately, we haven’t found him yet,” Nugent said.