Eight people were tossing a big green ball around in the water on a sandbar near Plum Island Tuesday afternoon when the tide came in unexpectedly, sweeping them away, a witness said.
"They were probably waist-deep, maybe a little deeper than that," said Steve Nimblett, 21, of Seabrook, N.H. "They were kind of tossing a ball back and forth, just playing around, having a good time."
The Coast Guard was called to the scene about 5:15 p.m. Tuesday. Rescuers managed to pull seven of Marina Kohn's friends from the water, but the 22-year-old from Lynn remains missing.
Searchers combed the ocean near the mouth of the Merrimack River through the night and into today, scouring nearly 120 square miles, the Coast Guard said. The search was discontinued at 9:22 a.m., said Petty Officer Connie Terrell, a Coast Guard spokeswoman.
"The decision to end the search for Ms. Kohn is a very difficult one," Coast Guard Commander Nathan Knapp said in a statement. "As a life-saving service, it's never easy to end a search with someone still missing at sea. Our thoughts are with her family and friends during this difficult time."
Nimblett said he was fishing about 10 feet away from the group when he noticed the tide coming in. He headed back to the shore, where he stood with another fisherman. The group did not try to come back to shore, Nimblett said.
"I guess nobody realized what was really going on," Nimblett said. "All of a sudden, they got swept off of the sandbar heading towards the river, into the river."
Nimblett and the other fisherman ran down to the water. They got within 15 feet of the group and were about waist-deep before the current got too strong, Nimblett said.
They quickly flagged down nearby boaters, who helped pull people out of the water, Nimblett said. He and several others dragged two people onto the beach.
"I waded back in, asking how many people they had on the boat, trying to get a head count," Nimblett said. "I asked them how many boys, how many girls. We realized there was a girl missing still."
Nimblett said the tide is very strong when it comes in over the sandbar.
"I just wish there was more that we could've done," Nimblett said. "I feel like if we had a piece of rope or a lifejacket, we could've helped more."
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