‘God sent somebody:’ Father shares story of saving kids, surviving a rip current

A father in Wilmington is holding his family a little closer after a trip to the beach came close to ending in tragedy last week.
John Mcintyre
John McIntyre holding his kids, Mel and Lia, close after they survived a rip current last week (Photo: Sydney Bouchelle/WWAY)

NORTH MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WWAY) — A father in Wilmington is holding his family a little closer after a trip to the beach came close to ending in tragedy last week.

It was a normal evening at the beach for John McIntyre and his two kids, Mel and Lia. The three drove down to North Myrtle Beach on Thursday afternoon and his wife decided to stay home. After arriving at their condo, John took his kids down to the beach. It was around 6:30 pm and he thought it was a little late, but he says there were still lots of people on the beach.

He says he spent a lot of time motioning for his kids to swim back closer to shore as the waves carried them out further.

“It was a little cringe-worthy for me looking at them because they had gotten a little further out but at the same time, I was so proud of them because they were in control,” McIntyre said. “My son was diving under the waves. They’re standing but then jumping and diving. Just enjoying the ocean as we all do.”

McIntyre says he was keeping a close eye on his children. Briefly, he took his eyes off them and realized the beach was not as crowded as it was when they first arrived.

“There’s nobody else around and at that instant, I heard what no parent would ever want to hear…a blood-curdling ‘dad help!'” McIntyre said.

His son, Mel, had gotten caught in a rip current. His daughter, Lia, was trying to swim toward him to save her brother. John went to where his daughter was in the water.

“I said, please swim in. You’ve done great, swim in. Scream, get help. And I took off toward my son,” McIntyre said. “I’ve gotta say, I’ve never experienced a more deafening silence. There’s being alone and there’s being alone in danger.”

John says he’s an okay swimmer, but not a great one. Nonetheless, he says he did what any father would do and swam toward his son. Eventually, John gets caught in the same rip as he is trying to get to Mel.

“I’m shouting to him don’t give up, don’t you dare give up son you fight. By this point all I see is a little head, eyes bobbing. It was terrifying,” he said.

Miraculously, after being pulled about a football field away from the shore, John got within five to six feet of Mel.

“I just begged to him, Mel you have got to get to me I cannot get to you. I was just exhausted, I had nothing left,” McIntyre said. “By God’s grace, I’ll never forget those little arms grabbing hold of my neck. I’ve never wanted a hug so badly.”

Exhausted, the two made it out of the current, but John could not go any further. He held onto his son and they tread water for less than a minute, but it’s what John says felt like an enternity.

“I told him everything that a dad would want to tell his son in that moment. I challenged him. I’m so proud of you, I love you, you didn’t give up, don’t you dare give up now. I told him, you’re going to have to go I can’t,” McIntyre said.

John says he felt his son’s hand push off his chest and a kick in his stomach. In that moment, he felt proud. As he drifted below the surface of the waves, he remembered a story of a father who died saving his son from a rip current in Wrightsville Beach last summer.

“This is how that happened. This is exactly what happened to that family, to that dad,” McIntyre said. “My feet touch the sand and I remember in that instant thinking, I’ve got to try.”

As he breached the surface, he saw his son about 30 feet ahead of him, getting close to the shore. He felt peace knowing his son would be okay.

“I knew that I couldn’t save my son. I’m at my absolute physical end. I’m begging God, would you do what only you can,” McIntyre said.

In that moment, he heard a voice. His daughter, Lia, had found help. It was another father and son duo. He encouraged them to help his son first and he turned to float on his back. Before long, he felt an arm grabbing him.

“These words ‘I gotcha man, I gotcha.’ The next thing I asked was, did you find my son? He said we got him too,” McIntyre said. “I remember thinking, but there is no one here. And yet, out of nothing, God sent somebody. How incredible.”

After that, John says he doesn’t quite remember anything else. He remembers seeing the sand when they made it to shore and seeing his kids’ feet standing next to him in the sand as he was receiving medical attention.

As people go into the holiday weekend, he encourages everyone to have fun, be safe, and keep a very close eye on your children and loved ones.

“You hug those kids before they go in the water and hug them the moment they get out. Be together as a family for sure and enjoy every minute,” McIntyre said. “The beach is beautiful and it reminds us of God’s creation and His love for us, His grace, but it’s powerful. Don’t lose sight of that.”

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