Brunswick County drownings leave people shaken up

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Submitted: Thu, 07/04/2013 - 11:06pm
Updated: Fri, 07/05/2013 - 3:09am

OCEAN ISLE BEACH, NC (WWAY) — Hundreds of people are on the beaches and in the ocean celebrating Independence Day, but Wednesdays drownings still have people pretty shaken up.

Two of three swimmers pulled from the ocean at Sunset Beach Wednesday afternoon have died, including a North Carolina judge.

Brunswick County Emergency Services Director Anthony Marzano says a call came in about three people in distress in the water at about 3:13 p.m.

By the time emergency crews arrived, all three were out of the water, but two of the swimmers were unresponsive, Marzano said. All three were taken to the hospital.

Mitchell McLean, 54, was pronounced dead. He served as Chief District Court Judge for the 23rd Judicial District, which includes Wilkes, Ashe, Alleghany and Yadkin counties.

Mary Anne Galway, of Waxhaw was airlifted to New Hanover Regional where she was also pronounced dead. A third victim, Galway’s husband, was treated and released from the hospital.

In all, three drownings were reported Wednesday in Brunswick County. A 72-year-old man from Florida drowned a few hours earlier just up the coast in Ocean Isle Beach.

People we spoke too Thursday say they are still worried about their children getting in the water.

”We were here yesterday when the gentleman down on the beach drowned. It’s just been scary because the kids go out just knee deep. It’s scary that were here and we don’t have any lifeguards here on Ocean Isle Beach,” said Johann Wheatley.

(Photo courtesy:


  • otis says:

    Wrightsville Beach has life guards and you hardly ever hear of drownings there. I’m just saying…

  • Peyton Garrett says:

    I am sure that the administrators of these beach towns will bring up the C word…Costs. How much is a life worth? Had there been lifeguards posted, perhaps not all three could have been saved but if just one of the three, would it be worth it? These “Beach”” towns reap the benefits of the tourist season financially, at least help protect the ones who help foot the bills while they are here doing what they came here for in the first place,,,,,the ocean. Anything less than posting lifeguards is derelict of duty by the people who run these “Beach” towns.

  • James Price says:

    Graduated with Mitch, and have seen him at work too, he`ll be sorely missed, the WCHS Class of 1977 salutes your bravery.. God Speed Mitch..

    Respectfully, jim Price

  • guesty says:

    Might be because Wrightsville makes it difficult for people just to get to the beach?

  • Guest21813 says:

    This is one of the first bad things that has happened at Sunset Beach I have been coming here for almost 26 years and my grandma has lived here her whole life. But regardless to say, Sunset is a “swim at your own risk” while this situation is very tragic and im praying for the families. But a comment like that was unneeded.

  • loveourbeaches says:

    I really feel bad for these families..but as far as needing lifegueards..who is to say that the lifeguards could of saved these lives.. i would rather go to brunswick county beaches any day instead of the wilmington beaches.. the people are so much nicer if the water is to rough i dont let my kids go out to far,when we go to oak island we feel welcomed to visit our beaches but when u go to the wilmington beaches they make you feel like they dont want you there..i mean geezz they tell you what you can and cant do on our would be nice if brunswick county could have lifeguards but if it means taking over our beaches to the point of having someone tell you what you can and cant do while enjoying your visit we will continue to swim at our own risk and to use good judgement

  • Joyce Eveler says:

    My son, Danny Eveler, was one of the young men that rescued these swimmers. He called me after leaving the beach and him and his baseball buddies were pretty shook up. He was upset they could not do more for the victims. I told him they were there for their swimming abilities and others were there for the CPR skills. Prayers to the victims and their families.

  • MelGat says:

    I have been enjoying summer visits to OIB for 15 years. I love it here, largely because it is so calm and shallow so far out. We are super careful swimmers and stay together. Though there were more waves than usual on Wednesday, the water seemed very reasonable to swim in together. Little did we know that less than half a mile from us there was a RIP tide. There was absolutely NO warning. The poor people who died there were not careless. I am very disappointed that there is no simple flag system to warn careful people of this horrible danger!!! There is NO excuse for not putting up a darned flag!!! Bless the people and their families!

  • wacNTN says:

    I am so glad that you are ok. I was on the beach making sandcastles with my kids when I saw some men holding you up at the edge of the water. There appeared to be enough help so I stayed back. So glad you are ok. I did not know what happened. The water was rough but I really did not think it was any rougher or the undertows any stronger than times I have been in the water at St. Augustine, Cocoa Beach or Daytona where they have life guards. But I did check the warnings every day and told my kids and wife to stay out of the deep water and away from the ends of the sand bar. I’m no expert on any of this but I know it is dangerous. I had a close call at Jekyll Island, Georgia as a teenager.

    We love OIB.

    I am so glad you shared your story too. I am having my kids read this so they realize Dad wasn’t just be over cautious that day.

    Most of all I am glad that God took care of you, your son, the rescuers and my family (they were in the water near you).

  • Guest-123 says:

    People can be ignorant. They dont watch the news where they DO tell you the conditions AND at every beach access there is riptide information in OIB. This is the beach I live at and love and I hate to see those that blatantly ignore the risks of swimming in the ocean. Next time, maybe people will stop and read the information that the town has posted at the access in the event that you do get stuck in rip current.

  • George Stamper says:

    Ignorance at its finest. Look at the statistics of guarded beaches versus unguarded beaches. Be safe, Be seen, Swim by a lifeguard.

  • Dawn Finkel says:

    My family was sitting 15 feet from where the victims were brought into the beach area. There was a group of very courageous young men from Oklahoma that were in town for a baseball tournament. The tournament was rained out Thank God! It was these young men that went in and rescued six different people! One was a 9 year old boy. If these boys had not acted when they did there would have been six deaths that day. Our prayers go out to the families who have lost their loved ones. We all should be thankful for the other four that survived thanks to those young men! Thank you!

  • Ed says:

    Wrightsville Beach has recognized that surfers are experienced with rip currents and allows them to surf in front of lifeguard stands anytime long period swells and rip currents are forecast by the National Weather Service.
    Waves break in shallower water.
    That calm patch of water where there are fewer waves is the deep place where the rip currents are.
    Swim for the waves, body surf one into shallower water.
    Surfers use rip currents. Rip currents are our “lift ticket” to a free ride out past the waves.
    Going for a rescue is easier on a midrange or longboard surfboard because you can get to the drowning victim faster, give them a floatation something to hold onto and you will not drown yourself, but a short board will also work.
    As a lifeguard, we know that a drowning person is very dangerous. They are panicked and will climb on top of you and push you under. A surfboard in the hands of an experienced surfer is one of the best rescue tools.
    Ocean Isle has shallow bars and deep holes closer to the beach. Waves push over the shallow sandbars at lower tides and fill in the deep holes. As water must seek its own level, this creats a current as the water tries to return to the ocean. The path of least resistance for this current is not where the waves are coming in, but where the deep place in the sand bar is, where the waves appear less intense. A bigger set of waves (or continuous smaller waves like OIB when the wind picks up) will create these currents. Usually stronger at mid to lower tide, but high tide can have bigger waves, deeper water near shore and strong currents as well when the wind is strong, but it is really about the waves, regardless of the wind.
    Bottom line?

    Look for the shallow sandbars with small waves breaking all the way to shore, there should be no hole on the inside of these areas, before the side current washes you off the sandbar, go to shore and walk back up stream.

    Learn to surf.
    Trust a surfer with experience.
    Rip currents and big waves are our playground.

  • Matt young says:

    I was in the water looking for one of the victims. I then joined other beach goers to bring in a deceased man while the paramedics/firefighters/police watched from the shore. Oh and my children were there also watching. I would never question the jobs of our first responders but obviously at ocean isle they don’t enter the water from the beach.

    The locals don’t need to pay for the lifeguards or whatever solution is come up with. If I as a tourist am willing to pay $10,000 for a house for a week I would easily pay a tax or some sort of charge for lifeguard services for me an my family. I realize that I am responsible for myself and my family but accidents happen and it would be great piece of mind to know I had backup on the beach.

    If the lifeguard debate is debated to death then a simple flag system would help. Letting the people who fund your lovely town know when water situations are dangerous doesn’t seem unreasonable.

    We are questioning whether to return to ocean isle ever again.

  • Sam Harrell III says:

    Visiting from Atlanta, my son and I were in the water at Ocean Isle Beach on Wednesday afternoon, July 3rd. We accessed the beach at the West End near the water tower. My family has been coming to this beach since 1962. My parents and I vacationed every year for two weeks at OIB since I was a baby. You could not get me out of the water back then! I was—and still am—a strong swimmer, although I am now 36 years old and had not visited OIB since 2003. My teenage son and I had a break in our schedules and I decided to show him where some of my best childhood times were spent. He is going to college next year and our father/son time is very precious now. We were staying with my aunt, uncle, and cousin in Shallotte for a few days and decided to spend a little time at the beach that day. We picked our spot on the crowded beach, sat down our chairs and bags, and made our way down to the water. We all spent 5 minutes in shallow knee deep water. Then my aunt, uncle, and cousin decided to go back on shore. My son and I stayed in the water trying to body surf what few good waves we could get in the choppy water. This is where things changed very quickly. The undertow was getting really strong. One second we were in waist deep water and the next we were in chest deep water. My son had a firm stance on a sand bar, but I had slipped off. I was treading water and trying to swim back on to a sand bar. I reached it and the water was chest deep on me for a few seconds. I tried to swim further in, but the current took me out into a deep hole. At this point, I was wearing out fast. I felt hot, my heart rate greatly accelerated, and I was getting really lightheaded. It was getting virtually impossible to even keep afloat. I then noticed how far the current had now pulled us out and I was starting to feel defeated. Time was running out on how much energy I still had. I was getting exhausted fighting the undertow. I no longer felt any sand underneath me. I was starting to get panicky. I yelled my son’s name and “HELP!” My son stayed on the sandbar and waved his arms back and forth screaming HELP. The only people anywhere close to us were two men from Nashville. They came over and grabbed my arms. At this point, all 4 of us were in peril. I was the one in the hole and rescuing me meant they might get dragged off the sandbar too. I was so worried about my son, too. He has not grown up vacationing at the beach and doesn’t have the ocean experience that I have. But he handled this perfectly. He stayed safely on the sandbar and alerted those guys. If he hadn’t been there, I feel 100% sure I would have drowned in another 30 seconds. I didn’t have the energy to wave my arms and yell for those guys and certainly didn’t have the energy to swim back to shore. So now the guys had my arms, and I reached behind me to grab my son’s arm. Out of nowhere, a wave came and pushed all 4 of us back to shallow water. God was truly behind this since there were no powerful waves that day, only terrible undertow and riptides. If that wave had not come, there is a chance all 4 of us could have drowned. I was dead weight by that point, completely exhausted and limp. Those two brave men definitely put their lives on the line. It just so happened that they were both nurse practitioners! They got me on shore under an umbrella to keep the brutal sun off me. They laid me on my back and bent my knees. My heart rate was really high, I still had labored breathing(even though I managed to not take in any water), and I was starting to feel nauseated. My body was trying to throw up, but I fought it. I was struggling to get my oxygen level up and was too out of breath to handle vomiting. I might have aspirated if I had vomited. They called the ambulance. Within a minute, the truck came. They loaded me on the back and took me over to the emergency vehicle access point to the waiting ambulance that was on the street. I didn’t start recovering until they gave me an IV and oxygen and rested in the hospital for a few hours. After all of this, I absolutely want OIB and surrounding beaches to—at the very least—have danger flags put out when needed. If I had seen flags, I would have stayed on the shore and certainly never let my son go in the water. As I found in this instance, one can go from safe to not safe in a matter of seconds. Rip tides and strong undertows have been common on these beaches as long as I remember and it is time for more progressive steps toward making the beaches safer. Until then, I will not be spending either time or money at OIB or at the surrounding beaches. After reading some of the other responses, it sounds like we were all very fortunate that there weren’t much higher drowning numbers on July 3rd. I feel God was with us all that day. He sent me angels, my son being one of them! My heart goes out to the families who have lost loved ones in these treacherous waters. Please wake up, OIB, and help prevent these tragedies.

  • Ken says:

    Well go to a beach with lifeguards. Those of us who live here have enough sense to check the rip tide warnings.

  • Raymond says:

    Were you being pulled underwater or just being dragged out to sea?

  • B says:

    The Honorable Mitchell “Mitch” Mclean has been a close personal friend of mine for years. Working in the court system you get close to these Judges and he was one of the most fairest Judges I have ever worked with. Not only were we friends on a personal level, he was a dear friend to me and Wilkes County lost a true HERO. Even in the court room he had a job to do, but he would always try to help people get there lives back on the right track no matter the situation. When I heard the news I said to my friend, that’s the Mitch that everybody knew, he died trying to help someone who was in trouble. I loved you Brother and thanks for always being their for me. I will never forget the great times that I got to spend with you. I will truly miss you!!!

  • Lori says:

    My twin boys and my son in law were some of the swimmers that pulled them out my daughter was one of the people that helped do CPR. It was a very scary situation and they all learned a very valuable life lesson. Life can be very short, don’t miss a chance to tell your family how much you love them. My prayers go out to the families and all who witnessed this tragedy.

  • e says:

    Where do you find the postings about rip tides for the day? Thanks

  • Kevin Wuzzardo says:

    We try to include such information in our beach and boating forecast each day. You can also download our StormTrack3 mobile app.

    You can also check the National Weather Service in Wilmington at If necessary, it will post a Rip Current Statement, as it has today, with the information.

    News Content Manager
    WWAY NewsChannel 3

  • Jersey lifegaurd says:

    You cheap S.O.B. greedy rich bastards like you worry more about your wallets than saving lives.. you make me sick..

  • Tony M says:

    I own a home on Sunset Beach and was nearby when these two drownings occurred on Wedneday. I feel our town council need to take steps to help prevent drowning tragedies. Education on rip tides need to be shared with our guests. A flag system needs to be utilized on the beach to warn swimmers of the danger. Our four wheelers need to be replaced with mobile life guards whose job is to protect lives and not issuing town citations. EMS and motorized rescue boats need to be kept on the island during busy holiday week. As a Brunswick County tax payer I am willing to pay more in taxes to finance this service which would save lives. The tax dollars that our out of town guests spend at our beaches should be considered. We have a beautiful asset. Let’s protect it and its people.

  • BR says:

    The National Weather Service in Wilmington, NC issues a surf zone forecast daily for all the Cape Fear and Grand Strand beaches. This forecast includes the rip current risk for all of our local beaches. Ocean rescue patrols use this forecast when deciding what flags to fly at the beach each day. Just bookmark these pages and you can easily access the daily rip current forecast:

    Rip Current Graphic:
    Rip Current Text Forecast:

  • Guestsilvia says:

    I’ve been a lifeguard for 36 years and still guard and know the dangers of the ocean. Use your resources to better save lives as the previous post suggests.. I also live here in Sunset. Put the atv’s to better use!

  • shannon says:

    Oh wow . Seriously??? Would you rethink what you just said if it had been a child lpst much less a toddler. Yes i agree people should be more aware but , speaking from experience of almost losing my life years ago, still needs to be a life gaurd i mean at least one every mile or so. Cause think about it.. is your money worth more than a human life? Think that over because God notes the greedy. He notes all.

  • Jimbo says:

    Are you a taxpayer in Sunset Beach? I live here, and I’m not interested in paying more taxes to provide yet another resource for the tourists. We don’t need to pay for life guard stations, lookout platforms, yadda yadda. The locals know better than to swim during rip current alerts — which have been posted for the last four days.

  • Guest2020 says:

    How about the “guests” educate themselves before they enter the water in an area where they swim at their own risk? There is such a thing as personal responsibility. It isn’t even a county issue. It is something that is handled by the beach municipalities. The cost would be passed on to everyone who lives within those town limits and not everyone who lives in the town limits have the spare change just lying around to pay for a tax hike.

  • Need to Be Sympathetic Yet Practical says:

    The recent drownings on all of the Carolina beaches is a terrible tragedy. Hopefully level heads will prevail in deciding on both a rational and practical solution. I believe that individuals definitely have to be responsible for their actions. However, where warnings are not clearly visible, perhaps they could be added – For example, a large flag of some sort hanging from the pier at Sunset Beach. Town residents would know what it signifies and renters could be informed upon arrival as well. Based on the data currently available, it would not appear that having lifeguards on every beach is the most rational or practical solution. See the info below. Deaths occur when there are lifeguards as well. I enjoy Sunset Beach beacause there are no lifeguards, because there are no platforms interrupting the skyline, the beautiful view, etc. It was enough of a travesty when they built the ugly bridge, I hope they don’t ruin the beautiful beach as well.

    “Ten North Carolina and South Carolina beaches, including Nags Head, Wrightsville, Kure and Kill Devil, reported 3,875 rip current rescues from 2010 to 2012. Rip currents drowned three people on unguarded beaches and two on guarded beaches during that time, data show. More than 34 million people attended those beaches over the three years.”

  • Guest123456789 says:

    Agreed. I’m friends of one of the families, too, and from how I heard it told, they WERE just wading in shallow water. People don’t seem to appreciate just how strong a riptide can be, and even if you’re standing in shallow water, it can sweep you away if the conditions are just right. My heart breaks for the families of the victims, and insensitive comments like “they should have known better” are just unnecessary and cruel.

  • John says:

    Your comment is completely disrespectful! This is someone’s family your speaking of. One of the victims is a very close friend of our family. They have spent the Fourth of July on the NC coast for the past 20 years and unfortunately this year the currents overtook the swimmers. I pray for comfort for all the victims and families as they struggle through the weeks and years to come!

  • Jennifer Fling says:

    What an Extremely Insensitive comment!!!!

  • dea says:

    My answer to you is you are an idiot and until Brunswick and holden beach get lifeguards I will take my tourism dollars elsewhere. I was there and this could have been avoided.

  • Kevin G says:

    It’s a terrible thing these people lost their lives but lets not go an talk about wealthy Brunswick County

    You folks don’t have a clue as to the extreme liability that is involved when a town or city provides services such ass these. That’s why 99% of beach cities contract it out. Hence. It’s too much liability. I mean damn. Anyone that saw the water this week should have enough sense to not get it. My heart goes out to all. But anytime you two bits with of nothing folks wants to provide lifeguard services. Then damn you n jump in and be proactive rather than reactive. Do SOMething rather than gripe n grumble after the fact. Always trying to place blame rather than accept that these folks shokd have been more aware. Sadly. I’d had done the sane as the judge. I’d had jumped right in as well. It’s my fellow man. God be with them

  • Ashley says:

    There is, sad thing is people don’t care. Every access has them posted before you even step foot on the beach. And if some would take a few minutes to check the new or NOAAs website, they’re usually have it posted if there’s an alert. Tragic.

  • Wilmington Observer says:

    Sad set of circumstances.

    Wilmington Observer

  • Chrystal says:

    I don’t know who you are, but we were there. I held and prayed with your mother and your sister. I am so sorry to hear your news. My prayers are with you and your family. I am so sorry. I too have been watching the news for more information.

  • Carmen says:

    I live in Florida and received news today that my father drown today, July 4, near Holden Beach. His name is Randy Joyce. I’ve been looking online for news but it hasn’t been reported yet.

    Please don’t swim near these beaches. This is all so tragic but can be avoided.

  • stwth says:

    I’ve been looking for news as well, am confounded why nobody has submitted that news. I’m so, so sorry for your loss. The water was very rough and there had been riptide warnings. Since there’s such a great concern about the costs for lifeguards I wish a more prominent warning system were in place, as well as the information about riptides.

  • Guest7969 says:

    you could be responsible and know your abilities!

  • Frank D. Harrisson says:

    Every beach should have a Life Guard station with a Lookout Platform, two Rescue Swimmers (min), Surfboat, and Rescue Buoy. The duties would not only rescue a troubled swimmer but to keep swimmers from getting in trouble in the first place. Control the swimmers into an area away from adverse currents and if the sea warrants it dispatch the boat (2 men) and patrol the surf area beyond the breakers and a third guard on the beach. If the surf gets to testy give the Lifeguards the authority to close the beach or Knee Deep if conditions can warrant it.

  • Guest4396 says:

    A much better soultion would be to stay out of the ocean except to wade in shallow water, unless you have gills, scales and fins, that is.

  • Guest today says:

    You either hold a public office or you plan to run for one. Do you have an idea of what that would cost? This was a very tragic day for these three folks and there families. But we, as individuals, have to be responsible for the choices we make. We as a society can’t afford to pay to avoid every possible tragedy that may happen. In the real world, accidents happen. I’m sure this day started as an innocent day at the beach. It’s a shame that it had to end tragically.

  • Guest123453 says:

    How about injecting a little common sense and personal responsibility into being able to access the beach’s, every beach has an overstaffed police force that could be warning beach goers of the dangers.

  • I totally agree that Life Guard Stations with Look out Platforms should be on our beaches. Many times it’s too late by the time emergency personnel arrive to save or rescue the victims. Time is the essence in these situations.

  • Beverly Brigman says:

    Prayers for the families and their losses. Judge Mitchell served NC well and will be missed.

  • Bryan says:

    Thoughts and prayers for the families and friends and anyone else
    who witnessed these horrible events.

    I live here and think we could find a way to have lifeguards
    at these family beaches….There’s an abundance of rental agencies
    who could pool together and put life guards in place if our county
    could not find the means to offer this service. Even a half of percent
    on rental tax income could help…….these are only suggestions and
    not meant to be open season on the messenger

  • Barbara from Baxter says:

    I was so shocked and saddened to hear about Mary Ann Galway. What a beautiful caring woman with such a positive attitude and full of life. My children go to the elementary school she worked at and she was always so sincere and quick to help with any needs. My heart goes out to her family, especially her husband. Rip tides are scary. I grew up swimming at Long Island beaches and have always heard that you can get pulled out standing in 8 inches of water when there is a rip tide. We have been vacationing in Holden Beach for a number of years now. I would be fine paying an extra fee on top of our rental fee for safety measures such as a flag system and life guards somehow monitoring the beaches. Prayers for all involved.

  • Leslie says:

    Thank you for your kind words about my sister Maryanne. She was a beautiful kind loving person, and I aspire to be like her. she was not a risk taker and would not put herself in a situation she could not control. This was something that came on very fast, and unfortunately she lost her life and I lost my sister, my friend.

  • Judymcdufie says:

    I was on the beach yesterday during this tragic time and my heart broke for the families.. but i want to Thank all those who bravely went into the water to get these people and all those who continued to give CPR until medical personal arrived.. I too do not understand how Brunswick county who is extremely wealthy in tax dollars cannot put lifeguards on our beautiful Sunset Beach… My prayers are with these families May GOD smother you with his Great Love and Comfort

  • shero says:

    were Judge McLean’s wife and boys with him on the beach? My heart breaks for all of them. This was in character for Mitch as he was an extremely caring person.

  • RKM 3 says:

    I agree, the events of yesterday were a terrible tragedy and my heart goes out to all of the victims families… I would also like to offer a great THANK YOU to all of the Emergency Responders who provided aid; particularly, the community’s Volunteer Rescue Service Members whose personal donation of time and service are rarely recognized…

    PLEASE, observe the water and beach erosion conditions in your area prior to entering the ocean. If you are unsure of the areas conditions, OR your capacity for “self rescue”, please don’t go past your knees…

    Stay safe, RKM 3

  • Cathy Harrold says:

    He was this best Judge you could ask for. He was fair and done it by the book for my case. Prayers going out to his family.Great guy gone to soon.

  • Guest45 says:

    don’t doubt it for a minute but have never saw anyone pass that didn’t turn out to be the best guy that ever walked the earth, but life goes on, this wx has the beach’s turned upside down and full of currents that very few can overcome, unfortunately, this will not be the last drowning

  • Guest3208 says:

    My thoughts and prayers go out to those who lost their lives this weekend. I agree that lifeguards need to be stationed along the beaches throughout Brunswick County. Unfortunately, there is a give and take. Being that it is free parking at least along Oak Island Beaches, it is a “swim at your own risk” situation. Maybe if we charged for parking, maybe then we could afford lifeguards. It always seems to boil down to money.

  • kaycee says:

    Thoughts and prayers for all the family and friends . May God be with you and comfort you during this time.

    I pray, we, as a county can come up with a solution to provide lifeguard stations during our busy season . Tourists generate many dollars to our county and real estate companies, businesses, and the people of our wonderful county.

    Think smart…..start a committee…….just START

  • stwth says:

    My son and I never go more than about thigh deep. The incoming waves are plenty. It astounds me to see how many parents let their young children go play in the water while they’re halfway up the beach.

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