A Rockaway Beach lifeguard and avid surfer was found floating lifeless at the beach in Rincon, Puerto Rico Sunday morning with his surfboard nearby. Authorities have identified the man as 23-year-old Dylan Smith, who was named in People magazine’s “2012 Heroes of the Year" list for helping rescue six people with his surfboard during Hurricane Sandy. FDNY Chief Michael Light, who has known Smith since childhood, told the Daily News, “The same sport — the sport of surfing — that he used to save all those people, it’s so shocking that he perished that way."
During the Sandy storm surge on October 29th, Smith and Rockaway resident Michael McDonnell, 51, rescued six people who were stranded on a porch on Beach 130th Street, where several surrounding houses were going up in flames due to a gas line explosion. Neighbor Katie Cregg, one of the people rescued, said, "Michael just took charge. He looked me straight in the eye, and I knew then and there we were going to be okay. And then the kid with the surfboard arrived like an angel, and everyone's spirits lifted."
In a later interview, Smith, a Belle Harbor resident, rejected the "hero" label, saying, "I don’t really see it that way. I was doing it to help Mike out. I did what I was asked to do. I don’t want to talk about me. I don’t think I’m a hero. Absolutely not. I just did what I was trained to. I’m a lifeguard. I surf. This is what I do.”
Dylan smith of all people didnt deserve this. Saved my sister the night of sandy. He will be missed.#rip
— RayMarten (@ray_marten) December 23, 2012
Smith's body was spotted floating in the waters near the beach by a resident of the popular tourist destination. NBC New York reports that a local doctor tried to resuscitate him, to no avail. One commenter on the NBC website says, "I'm a local surfer in Puerto Rico and the conditions were not easy at all ! I surf all sorts of waves and sizes and I was out there when he supposedly drowned."