Dylan Smith, a lifeguard from Queens who used his surfboard to save lives during Hurricane Sandy, has died surfing. He was 23.
"It was kind of a punch in the gut," Smith's former neighbor Ray Marten told NY1. Marten's house burned to the ground the night of Hurricane Sandy, leaving him and his family chest deep in water. As the Martens struggled to swim, Smith came along with a surfboard to bring them to safety.
Smith ultimately helped rescue six people that day using a homemade rope bridge and his surfboard as fires and flooding spread across the Rockaways, NBC New York reported. Smith's heroics attracted major media attention, and he was recently named one of People Magazine's 2012 Heroes of the Year.
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On Sunday, police found Smith's body floating off a popular beach town in Puerto Rico, the Associated Press reported. The town, called Rincon, attracts surfers from across the world. Police say locals brought his body to the shore and tried to resuscitate him, but to no avail. Police are now investigating the death.
Smith's neighbor Michael McDonnell, who worked with him saving people during the height of the storm, remembers Smith as a "guardian angel," writing in the New York Daily News: "His calmness and ability to work with me like a team stood out to me immediately, and it was at that moment I knew I had a great person at my side.Dylan did not care much for the media; rather he wanted to stay very clear of any publicity. When I approached him for the People magazine 'Hero of the Year' award he said he would pass on the photo shoot."