Off-duty coast guardswoman saves three from drowning

FORT FISHER, NC (WWAY) — Off-duty coast guardsman, Jennifer Williamson was enjoying a day at Fort Fisher with her sister Sunday, when just before noon, they both noticed something off in the water. A strong rip current had dragged three men far from shore, and they were struggling to keep their heads above water.

Williamson said she didn’t think in that moment, but she knew what had to be done.

“As soon as I saw that, I knew every second and every minute was very precious,” Williamson said. “So I just ran up to a stranger, grabbed a boogie board, and went into the water.”

Williamson said the rip current was so dangerously strong, she was able to use it to get to the men quickly, conserving her energy for the trip back. As the current dragged her out, Williamson said she focused on getting to the men.

“I was more fearful for their life, not so much mine,” she said. “You know, we have a saying in the Coast Guard. You’ve got to go out, but you don’t have to come back.”

Fully prepared to give up her life to save these three strangers, Williamson finally reached the men. They’d swallowed a great deal of salt water, and were still struggling to tread water.

Then came the hard part. The men grabbed onto the boogie board as Williamson backstroked, pulling all four back to shore.

“You know, it’s three bodies and my own with a boogie board that’s meant for a teenager. So the buoyancy of it wasn’t the greatest.”

Continually making sure the three men could breathe, Williamson swam diagonally to shore, still partially against the current. After an excruciating swim, the four finally made it to safety with no life threatening injuries.

“I was just glad to have been at the right place at the right time. During a distressed situation, knowing that lives were at risk. It was a complete honor to render that assistance for all three of them.”

If you ever find yourself in a similar situation, Williamson recommends checking local weather before you go out, staying calm, swimming parallel to shore, and if the current is too strong, floating on your back until it weakens.

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