GRAYTON BEACH, Fla. (AP) – Hearing frantic calls from nearby beachgoers, Theo Laurent swiftly paddled his surfboard to the spot where people where pointing about 50 yards away.

The 16-year-old discovered two men floating face down in the roiling surf. He turned them over and struggled to keep their heads above water.

“I was yelling as loud as I could when I would come up for air and there was nothing, no response at all from either of them,” Laurent said Monday.

One victim, former CNN bureau chief Larry LaMotte, was dead – one of five people who drowned Sunday on Florida Panhandle beaches. The other, Ken Brindley, of Conway, Ark., had gone into the water to try to help LaMotte.

Brindley was in critical condition Monday, one of four swimmers who remained hospitalized after encountering treacherous riptides during a day of uncommon danger along the Florida Panhandle. Nearly 40 other people were rescued along a 30-mile stretch of beach in two counties Sunday.

A sixth person, David Dotson, 66, of Milton, drowned Monday in the waters off Pensacola beach. All six drownings took place in an approximately 40-mile stretch of shoreline.

“It’s kind of like the perfect storm on a much smaller scale,” said Michael P. Kane, deputy chief of the South Walton Fire District.

Steady southwest winds whipped waves to 4 to 5 feet earlier in the week, but thunderstorms kept most people out of the water until Sunday, when the sun came out.

The crashing waves created rip currents – rapid-flowing underwater rivers forcing their way back out to sea. Trying to swim to shore against the currents usually is futile, resulting in exhaustion and panic.

Red flags warning people to stay out of the water were flying at the beaches.

“Yes, we saw the red flag and we ignored it, and I’m sad to say that,” said Kim Hudgens, 35, of Columbus, Ga., who had been in the water with her four children Sunday and witnessed LaMotte’s drowning.

LaMotte, 60, of Atlanta, joined CNN in 1980, but no longer worked there, spokeswoman Megan Mahoney said. He was the cable network’s first bureau chief in Dallas and later in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. He also was a national correspondent in Atlanta.

After the first drowning, a sheriff’s helicopter flew over the beach issuing warnings over a loudspeaker. Between rescues, firefighters on the beach urged people to stay out of the water. But many people returned later.

“It’s kind of like, ‘Mom’s not watching,”‘ Kane said. “Outside of personally grabbing people and physically dragging them to shore, I don’t know what the heck we can do.”

Walton County, like a number of municipalities in the region, has no lifeguards. Four of the deaths came in Walton County, with the fifth in Okaloosa County. Monday’s death was in Escambia County.

Walton had only one drowning this year before Sunday and none last year. About 50 miles west of Walton, 21 people have drowned over the past 21/2 years off Santa Rosa Island, all on unguarded beaches and most victims of rip currents.

“Drownings are not something that happens often,” said Kriss Titus, executive director of Beach of South Walton. “The red flag system, the signage and brochures have worked so far, but I think that Walton County’s always open to … finding ways to solve problems.”

AP-ES-06-09-03 2343EDT

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