A 16-year-old youth who drowned yesterday in the sea off Ostend died because of a dangerous spring tide in what looked like calm waters, a lifeguard explained.
The youth was on a day trip from Brussels with some friends. He was last seen on a sandbank. Later, when his friends realised he was nowhere to be seen, they raised the alarm.
There followed a search of about three hours, at first along the shoreline and then later at sea, with assistance from maritime police, fire service, and an NH90 helicopter from the Koksijde airbase along the coast.
The search culminated in the discovery of a body in the water. The youth has not been identified publicly to allow the family to be informed.
“We have of course started an investigation,” said Philip Caestecker, chief of the Ostend police. “But everything points to a tragic accident at the moment.”
For Bart Van Eechoute, chief lifeguard at Middelkerke beach, the cause is clear.
"The sea was effectively calm, and there was little wind. But we are in a period of spring tide. That lasts for a few days, and it means there is a lot of current. It was strongest yesterday around four or five o'clock in the afternoon, and it can easily reach four kilometres per hour. That is significant."
The spring tide involves not simply an undertow, but the displacement of an entire body of water.
"The entire body of water moves parallel to the coastline, in the direction of the Netherlands. And everyone in it moves with it. The further into the sea you go, the stronger the current."
The worst period for the phenomenon is now behind us, he said.
"It always takes place in the three days after a new or full moon. Now it is slowly decreasing again, but in a fortnight we will have another spring tide. The sea is treacherous, even when it looks calm. Especially for children, who do not always realise the danger and think that everything is calm. But the sea remains dangerous. So be careful."