Atlanta man recounts almost drowning last week at Ocean Isle Beach



Visiting from Atlanta, my son and I were in the water at Ocean Isle Beach on Wednesday afternoon, July 3.

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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.