By Donald Wittkowski
A prominent Philadelphia banker and another beachgoer died this week in Sea Isle City in separate swimming accidents apparently caused by rough surf and an unusually large “rogue” wave, authorities said.
Brian C. Zwaan, a senior executive at WSFS Bank who had a summer home in Sea Isle, was pronounced dead at Cape Regional Medical Center at 4:40 p.m. Monday after he was pulled from the water at the 86th Street beach.
An autopsy determined Zwaan, 58, died of head and neck injuries complicated by drowning, according to a press release issued by the city Thursday evening.
A “similar incident” at the 59th Street beach on Wednesday resulted in the death of a 74-year-old man whose identity has been withheld pending notification of family, the press release said. Witnesses reported the man was knocked over by a big wave and remained underwater “for a period of time.”
“It sounds like a rogue wave, an unusually large one,” city spokeswoman Katherine Custer said.
Custer said the city is awaiting autopsy results on the second victim. With the help of nearby swimmers, the Sea Isle Beach Patrol pulled him up on the beach at around 1:40 p.m. and began performing CPR with the assistance of members of the police department. He was transported to Atlantic City Medical Center by helicopter, but died of his injuries early Thursday, the press release said.
“The ocean is a dangerous place,” Custer said. “It’s happened before. It’s happened at other islands.”
Both deaths have been ruled accidental.
Custer said neither she nor Police Chief Thomas D’Intino could remember the last time a swimmer – let alone two – died at a Sea Isle beach protected by lifeguards. She noted that the two deaths are a stark reminder that the ocean is “a fierce, fierce thing.”
The Jersey Shore was pounded by heavy rains during a nor’easter last weekend, but Custer said she did not know whether the rough surf was a remnant of the coastal storm.
The surf was moderately rough at the 86th Street beach when Zwaan was in the water, Custer stated. Yellow flags were raised by the lifeguards as a warning of the choppy conditions, but the surf was still considered safe enough for swimming, she added.
Lifeguards and good Samaritans performed CPR on Zwaan around 2:45 p.m. Monday. He was pronounced dead at the hospital about two hours later, according to the press release.
Zwaan, who lived in Berwyn, Pa., was vice president and director of commercial banking in Pennsylvania for WSFS Bank. Last year, WSFS acquired Penn Liberty Bank, a financial institution co-founded by Zwaan in 2004.
“This is so tragic, and there are truly no words to convey how we feel,” Cortney Klein, vice president and director of brand strategy for WSFS, said in an email.
In an advertisement, WSFS paid tribute to Zwaan as a “one of a kind” who influenced many people as a business colleague, community leader and role model.
“His warmth and generosity made an impact on every person and organization he touched,” the ad said. “Thinking about his infectious smile will always bring to mind memories of the positive and lasting impact he made during his lifetime.”
Property records posted online show that Zwaan owned a home in Sea Isle on 87th Street in the Townsends Inlet section. Klein confirmed Zwaan had a summer vacation home in Sea Isle, but had no other details.
According to Zwaan’s obituary in The Philadelphia Inquirer, he “loved the beach.”
Zwaan was active in the Catholic community in the Philadelphia area. Among other organizations he was involved in, he served on the board of trustees for AIM Academy, a prep school in Conshohocken, Pa.
AIM said in a statement that Zwaan was a generous supporter whose warm demeanor could make everyone “feel like the most important person in the room.”
“He loved the mission of AIM and believed that all children should have the opportunities that AIM brought to its families and students,” the school said.
Zwaan also was a supporter and member of the Advisory Board at Villa Maria Academy, a Catholic girls prep school in suburban Philadelphia. His wife, Diane, works as director of special events at Villa Maria.
His three daughters, Elizabeth Zwaan Milne, Sarah Zwaan and Margaret Zwaan, are Villa Maria graduates. Zwaan is also survived by a son, Matthew.
“He filled the room with positive energy. He just exuded goodness. You loved being with him and being part of any enterprise or project in which he participated,” Regina Ryan, principal of Villa Maria, said in a statement.
A viewing for Zwaan will be held on Friday from 5-9 p.m. at St. Denis Catholic Church in Havertown, Pa. A Funeral Mass will take place on Saturday at 10 a.m., also at St. Denis.