Authorities found the body of Aly Lakdawala early Tuesday morning on the beach near Matapalo, Costa Rica, where he went missing Saturday afternoon.
Lakdawala and three other students, who were on an alternative summer break trip with the Center for Leadership and Civic Engagement, were swimming when “an enormous wave” began to pull them from shore, said University Spokesman Michael Hoad.
Hoad said the three students went with the current then slowly swam back to shore as it subsided. He said the students thought Lakdawala was with them.
USF Vice President of Student Affairs Jennifer Meningall received a phone call around 3 a.m. Eastern time Tuesday that Lakdawala’s father had identified his son’s body.
“Let me first say that losing a student is a tragedy for the University,” Meningall said at the news conference. “It is heartbreaking.”
Meningall said Costa Rican authorities believe the body had drifted back to shore. Dean of International Studies Maria Crummett was on the beach with Lakdawala’s father when the body was identified.
Hoad said helicopters and several boats assisted in the searched for Lakdawala. During a second flight, a helicopter had to make an emergency landing in a pineapple field, but no injuries were reported.
He also said Lakdawala’s father rented his own boat to help search.
“It’s a beach that’s remote from the capital (San Jose), but it’s a popular surfing beach,” Hoad said. “There are lifeguards there and there are beach patrol.”
He said six lifeguards were at the beach when Lakdawala went missing, but further details are unknown.
Fourteen students, including Lakdawala, left for Costa Rica on May 8 to volunteer with International Volunteer HQ. The students arrived in San Jose where they volunteered at an orphanage for three days. The group then went to Matapalo to assist a Costa Rican biologist in a turtle conservation project.
The students were supposed to come back Sunday, but 11 students returned late Monday night with Wayne Espinola, the husband of Jennifer Espinola, both of whom were supervising the students. Jennifer is the director of the Center for Leadership and Civic Engagement.
Rene Sanchez, a coordinator in International Affairs and Education Abroad, also went to Costa Rica with Crummett to assist the family.
The remaining two students were scheduled to return to the United States on Tuesday night along with Lakdawala’s father, uncle and USF officials. Hoad said one of the two students who remained had a fever and chose not to fly.
USF President Judy Genshaft said Lakdawala was involved in many activities at the University.
“Aly was a smart, wonderful young man, who participated in many volunteer activities at (USF),” Genshaft said at the news conference. “He was on the board of USF’s Center of Leadership and Civic Engagement and helped plan our alternative spring break trips.”
Lakdawala participated in the center’s alternative spring break trip in South Carolina, where he volunteered at a boys’ home. He graduated earlier this month with a double major in international studies and philosophy.
“Losing a student or any member of our USF community is a tragedy for our university,” Genshaft said. “It’s heartbreaking that this would happen to anyone, but especially to a young man who was going to help serve the world.”
Hoad said the University will continue to have these volunteer trips, but there are plans to review the policies and procedures of future trips.
Meningall said students attend a pre-trip orientation that includes conditions of the country the students plan to visit. USF has grief counselors available and students may contact the counseling center.
“We are significantly concerned that we not only provide support to (Lakdawala’s) family, but also the other students that were participating on this trip and to help them get back to a place where they’re able to fully function,” she said. “This has been a tragic event and we will continue to do what we can.”