In just ten days, rip currents have killed four people on the North Carolina coast. Our state has about 300 miles of coast line, but all four people who died got caught up in rip currents within a 25-mile span: from Emerald Isle to Atlantic Beach.
While the dangers of rip currents may seem obvious to frequent beach goers, officials say so far, this year has been busy, and dangerous. Instinctively, even the strongest swimmers might panic.
Rip currents form when strong waves hit some spots on the beach and weak waves hit other places. This causes rip currents and they can pull swimmers out to sea. To escape, you should swim parallel to shore.
The Fire Rescue Chief of Atlantic Beach Adam Snyder was part of the team this past weekend that tried to save two drowning victims, one on Saturday and one on Sunday.
“Statistics show that the person who drowns, and ends up dying is the would-be rescuer. It's not usually the individual out there initially getting in trouble,” said Snyder.
In these two unfortunate cases, that's what happened. Both a 56-year-old man, and a 21-year-old from Greenville, N.C. tried to go help people who were being pulled out by the rip current, but they ended up being the victims.
“For two in one week, it's quite unusual. Usually you have one or two during the entire summer, and a majority of these, I would say 99% of those are all outside of life-guarded areas,” Snyder said.
He says your best defense: swim in areas that are monitored by life guards. If you see someone caught up in rip currents, don't try to save them without some sort of a floatation device, and make sure to call 9-1-1 for assistance. Snyder’s rescue teams won't attempt a rescue without one.
Chief Snyder says you need to heed beach access warning signs. He's making sure all 20 public beach accesses at Atlantic Beach have them – plus the flags to show what the water conditions are like that day. He says the lifeguards for the town check what the National Weather Service is saying, and test the waters themselves before deciding what flag to put up.
Here’s what all the flags mean: First – the red flag means surf is high or currents are dangerous, and swimming is not recommended. Two red flags alert swimmers to extremely dangerous current conditions. Yellow means rip currents are possible, and swimmers should use extreme caution. Green means the threat is low and it's safe to swim. Finally, purple and blue flags signal that potentially dangerous ocean animals have been spotted, such as jellyfish or sharks.