Costa Rica finds body of US student missing at sea

SAN JOSE, Costa Rica (AP) — Costa Rican rescuers on Friday found the body of a third U.S. high school student who was swept out to sea while taking a beach break during a religious mission.

A coast guard patrol recovered the body of Kai Lamar in waters off Bejuco beach on the Pacific coast, said Jesus Escalona, Red Cross assistant director of operations. The body of the other two students, Caity Jones and James Smith, were found earlier this week.

A strong undertow pulled the three away from shore Wednesday afternoon, according to a statement from their school, Patriot Preparatory Academy in Columbus, Ohio. They were among eight juniors and seniors on a trip not sponsored by the school.

Escalona said the body was found in roughly the same area where Smith’s body was recovered a day earlier. He said the body fit Lamar’s description and rescuers have called off the search.

The bodies have been taken to a morgue where relatives or U.S. Embassy officials can claim them. The U.S. Embassy has declined to comment, citing privacy restrictions.

The students had been taking Wednesday, their final day in Costa Rica, as a free day. The three swept away, all juniors, were described as active in school and the community, well-liked and good students.

The mission was organized by Ohio-based Impulse International Mission Trips. The students were working at an orphanage and a drug rehabilitation center, among other places, according to a post by Lamar on a blog the group is keeping on the trip.

The K-12 school, on the city’s east side, is a former private Christian school that converted this year to a charter school, meaning it is publicly funded but privately run. It has about 500 students.

Students had made the same volunteer trip to Costa Rica in the past when the school was private, said Paul Blythe, a friend of the Jones family and a school board member whose children graduated from the school. They raised funds and obtained sponsors to pay for the trip, he said.

In 2006, three Kansas students and their teacher drowned in Costa Rica while on a Spanish language immersion trip. A group of students were swimming and some were swept away by strong currents. At least two were rescued, but the teacher and one of the students died trying to save the others.

At least 52 people have drowned at sea in Costa Rica this year, said Freddy Roman, another Red Cross spokesman. Last year, 76 drowned.

Although the number of people drowning appears to be on the rise this year compared to last year, Roman said he did not believe it was a trend.

He said 2010 saw surprisingly few people drown or killed in car crashes and other accidents in Costa Rica. Emergency officials have attributed the drop last year to an overall decrease in vacationers caused by an economic downturn. He said there are usually about 100 drownings a year.

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