The five men — some of whom were trained lifeguards — drowned off the coast of the Netherlands.
Rescuers called off the search for any remaining bodies Tuesday, after confirming five deaths and rescuing just one surfer from what authorities called a “man-sized foam layer” in The North Sea.
The victims, who took to the sea Monday evening off the coast of The Hague, were all experienced surfers between the ages of 22 and 38, according to The Guardian. Authorities speculate that stormy weather and strong winds helped produce a massive layer of sea foam that trapped and drowned the men.
“Like me, they were internationally trained lifeguards,” Pat Smith, The Hague’s night mayor, told a Dutch radio station. “They have worked in Australia and received heavy training from an international water sports association. Yesterday they were training on the water. They got lost in the foam.”
Jumpteam Scheveningen, a local watersports group, posted a picture of unclaimed surfboards that had washed to shore on Tuesday. Because it was unclear how many people went missing, Jumpteam asked for surfers to claim their lost boards.
But KNRM, the local lifeguard service, officially called off its search after a 2-day rescue operation that included the fire brigade, the rescue brigade, the police, and the Coast Guard. KNRM said it retrieved three surfers on Monday evening, two of whom died. The third survived and told rescuers there were more people in the water.
By Tuesday afternoon, two more bodies were recovered and another was seen, but it disappeared from sight and could not be retrieved. During the effort, rescue personnel waded through waist-deep foam along the beach. Authorities even used a helicopter to help blow away some of the foam during the operation.
In a letter posted to the city’s website, The Hague’s mayor, Johan Remkes, expressed both shock and disbelief at the tragic event.
“How is it possible that such experienced surfers were completely taken by surprise at a spot they knew so well?” she lamented. “But also: how is it possible that a drama unfolded at one harbor inlet while at the other harbor inlet, not even 100 meters away, people were still surfing until late in the evening?”
Remkes promised an investigation into what happened would continue:
“I know that you have a hundred questions. We have the same questions. You can now ask your hundred questions a hundred times and I will tell you a hundred times: we are going to investigate this. But this will not bring our victims back.”