The stepmother of Savannah Finn, the 23-year-old Florida woman who drowned March 18 at Peterborg Point, expressed thanks Thursday to all who helped the family as they searched for Savannah and urged the territory to place warning signs to help prevent future such tragedies.
In a statement issued Thursday, Ray and Jackie Finn of Ocklawaha, Fla., a town north of Orlando, noted that there are no warning signs on or near Peterborg Point. And while locals may be aware of the treacherous conditions, most visitors are not.
"Tourists are unaware of the danger," Jackie Finn wrote. "Savannah’s family’s most important wish is that a tragedy like this does not ever happen again at Peterborg Point. Warning signs and barricades must be placed and maintained."
According to Finn, Peterborg Point is notorious for its mystic beauty but the locals know its treacherous, fatal past.
"Most are unaware of the danger, especially once you step foot off the upper solid ground area and walk over jagged rocks to get close to the beauty of the wave breaks," Finn wrote. "The area known as the ‘trench’ and the wave pool with the constant ocean water movement lures you in."
Savannah was with her boyfriend, identified as "Louie" in Finn’s account, visiting another couple on St. Thomas. Savannah, who lives in Fort Lauderdale, recently turned 23 years old. A student at Florida International University, she was scheduled to graduate this year.
At 6:08 p.m. Friday, March 18, Savannah and Louie were "lured in," Finn said.
According to Finn, the two were taking photos of the water rising and receding both on the rocks and in the “trench” when the tragedy occurred.
"The other couple, who were at the top, solid ground area, watched a huge wave-burst come over the couple and throw them both into the trench. The water receding in the trench became full of white foam as the two struggled for the rock side,” Finn said.
“A miracle happened when Louie was suddenly lifted by the next rush of water that came into the trench and threw him up onto a rock. Scraped, vomiting and out of breath, he struggled to grab hold of Savannah."
Finn noted that the Point is a popular place for weddings and that a ceremony was taking place when the incident occurred.
"The couple who accompanied Savannah and Louie ran to the wedding party with a cry for help. The photographer and videographer, both avid local divers, knew that cry for help and the photographer placed the call to law enforcement.
"The brave men from the wedding tied together a necktie and shirt from their wedding apparel to make a garment rope. After several attempts to get the garment rope to Savannah in the foamy trench, she finally grabbed hold but, just as she did, a second huge wave came in and pulled her down into the trench and spit her out at the bottom swirl between two huge boulders in the water,” Finn said. “The waves continued to crash in and out off the point and there was nothing anyone could do."
Finn said the family "understands and appreciates every effort the brave wedding party and the photographers attempted."
As units from St Thomas Rescue, the V.I. Police Department, the Department of Planning and Natural Resources, and the Virgin Islands Territorial Emergency Management Agency responded, Savannah was seen face down before getting pulled down under another wave. Finn said the family was told 12-foot surges prevented any further rescue attempt that night and all operations were suspended until Saturday morning.
That evening the family received what Finn called "the call a parent never wants to receive," from the boyfriend, Louie.
"He was in shock that he could not save her," Finn said.
The family flew into St. Thomas to be part of what was now no longer a rescue attempt, but an effort to find Savannah’s body and bring her home.
For the next six days, searchers combed not just the area of the point, but also across the island.
Finn’s statement details the search, and highlights the following contributions:
– Jeff’s Jet Ski Services, who battled the wicked waves to get up close looking for any signs of Savannah or her clothing.
– Mick Lynch provided a drone to get aerial views of the cracks and crevices, which Saturday were too dangerous for St. Thomas Rescue to access.
– American Red Cross volunteers Carol and Charlene helped console family members and offered assistance.
– On Sunday an experienced St. Thomas dive team, John Webb, Jacob Peddic and "Captain Ed" from Compass Point Marina, coordinating with St Thomas Rescue as marine backup, made three dives in the caverns and rocky terrain beneath the churning sea at Peterborg Point mid-morning. While they were not able to locate the young woman, the dive team found the black necktie with a small remnant of the white shirt tied together which the wedding party used in their rescue attempt.
– Fishing captains and divers from the area heard the call for volunteers and offered their services.
– A dive team from Hull Bay consisted of Capt. David Berry and six divers: Danny LaPlace, Gene Brin, Devon Querrard, Brent Mesmer, Jerry Cowen and Frank LaPlace. Though the sea had calmed somewhat, the area known as the trench is still as dangerous a dive as any on the island. The only piece of clothing sighted was a flipflop, assumed to be Savannah’s. It was stuck in a crevice, unreachable.
– Thursday morning VITEMA conducted a recovery dive for Savannah’s body in another area believed to have reefs and caverns in the direction of the water currents since the accident.
Still no body has been found.
The U.S. Coast Guard is conducting broadcasts on marine frequencies to all inbound and outbound vessel traffic with description of the orange shirt Savannah was wearing, Finn said. She expressed the hope that with the busy Easter weekend and a local fishing tournament, a vessel will find her adrift or her body will be found onshore. The bright orange shirt Savannah was wearing is very visible.
In the meantime, Finn expressed the family’s thanks the many people who helped or who lent support, including:
– Flamboyant on the Bay and its general manager Lori Baskin and owners Michael and Mercedes Shelby for donating lodging for the family members.
– The Cup and Cork, Leanne Swain and Dan Perry, who donated food and beverages to the family during their stay.
– The wedding party and wedding photographers, "who bravely tried saving Savannah from the fierce waters of the trench.
– To all the volunteers, agencies and people on the island that have assisted the family during this time of grief. "Your thoughts and prayers are deeply appreciated."