Mark Gutt can't believe his two best friends are gone.


Every year Gutt and his friends come to Longboat Key for vacation from the Buffalo, N.Y., area. But this year's trip came to a tragic end after only a day with the drowning of two vacationers Monday afternoon.

The men, identified as John Larry, 48, and Christopher Gugliozza, 52, both of New York were pronounced dead at Sarasota Memorial Hospital after frantic beachgoers called 911 at 4:20 p.m., according to hospital officials.

Longboat Key Deputy Fire Chief Leo Brown said the 911 call came from a Longboat Key public beach, in the 3400 block of Gulf of Mexico Drive, a mile south of the Manatee County line.

Gutt said he and his friends, staying at The Beach resort, were swimming in shallow gulf waters when panic struck.

"We were maybe in waist-deep water when they drifted away," Gutt said. "I thought they were kidding when they said they couldn't swim back. They shouted 'Mark we are not kidding, we need help.' "

A beachgoer swam into the water and helped Butts pull his friends from the water. A woman also staying at The Beach ran a pool life preserver down to the water and gave the men CPR.

Leaning against a wall at the resort, she wept as she learned the men had died.

Gutt said several bystanders tried to help the men as paramedics arrived.

"There were a lot of heroic people out there," he said.

Firefighters and paramedics arrived to find the men not breathing and without a pulse at water's edge, Brown said.

Emergency personnel tried to resuscitate the men in two ambulances rushing to the hospital.

"They were working on them the whole way," Brown said.

Gutt described his friends as fun-loving guys, and successful businessmen who loved baseball. Gutt and the two victims came to Longboat Key with their wives.

"Avid Yankees fans," Gutt said, holding back tears. "I just can't understand why this happened. Their wives are absolutely devastated."

The drowning also left other vacationers shaken. Ruth Thomas, vacationing from Ohio, said she could hear the screaming from the beach as people called for help.

"So many people tried to help them. It is just awful. We just prayed they would come out of it," Thomas said. "We are going to go home early because this is just too terrible."

Hours after the drowning, piles of towels and a life preserver marked the spot where the attempted rescue took place. The waves continued to crash hard on the beach as winds swirled.

Brown said Tuesday was an especially windy day conducive to strong currents and even riptides, known for pulling swimmers away from the beach.

"We can't confirm there were riptides, but we know the currents were very strong," said Brown.

Brown said swimmers should always be wary of strong currents and find out if weather forecasts are predicting conditions favorable to riptides before swimming.

Ironically, Gutt said, he and his friends were joking about riptides on Monday before the accident.

"I had read an article on the trip down about riptides and we were laughing and joking about being scared of the water," Gutt said. "I am just torn apart. All I can say is why?"