Dylan Smith, one of PEOPLE’s Heroes of the Year for using his surfboard to help rescue six lives during Superstorm Sandy in late October, drowned this weekend in a surfing accident in Puerto Rico, say news reports.
The body of the 23-year-old lifeguard from Queens, N.Y., along with his surfboard, was discovered floating in the Caribbean Sunday morning off the popular resort of Maria s Beach near Rincon on the western coast of the island, according to police officials.
It was also reported a local resident spotted his body and dragged Smith to shore. Efforts by a doctor who tried to resuscitate him proved futile.
“The same sport – the sport of surfing – that he used to save all those people, it’s so shocking that he perished that way, FDNY Chief Michael Light, a family friend who’s known Smith since childhood, told New York’s Daily News.
The night of the storm, Smith, along with Michael McDonnell, 51, a sales director for Chefs Diet, used a homemade rope bridge and his surfboard to transport the six people out of danger as fires from a gas-line explosion spread across the flooded Rockaway Peninsula.
McDonnell has since said he plans to launch a non-profit foundation commemorating the rescue called the Bridgerope Foundation for the Rockaways, according to CBS News.