Rebecca Levanthal, with red buoy, swims to aid a swimmer Friday at the Ocracoke day use beach.
Rebecca Levanthal, with red buoy, swims to aid a swimmer Friday at the Ocracoke day use beach.

Friday, July 22, 2016

By Connie Leinbach

A second drowning in two days occurred this afternoon (July 22) in Frisco, Dare County, the Cape Hatteras National Seashore has reported. 

Dare Central was notified at 3:24 pm of a male caught in a rip current off of Sailfish Drive.

Hatteras Island Rescue, Dare County EMS, Dare County sheriff’s officers, and NPS rangers responded, and resuscitation efforts on the 71-year-old male were unsuccessful.

This follows the drowning death of a 67-year-old man after being caught in a rip current on Ocracoke Thursday off Ramp 70, known as the airport ramp. 

Cape Hatteras National Seashore Chief Ranger Boone Vandzura confirmed Thursday that the man was a visitor to the island and had been swimming with a younger man around 3 p.m. when a strong surf got even stronger.

As of today, Vandzura said all of the next of kin of the Ocracoke visitor had not been contacted and therefore he could not release the name of victim or other details about the victim and survivor.   He did say that neither man was from North Carolina.

“We are saddened by these tragic events, and our hearts go out to the families and friends of the victims,” Outer Banks Group Superintendent David Hallac said in a press release.

This afternoon (Friday) on Ocracoke, the lifeguards at the day use beach had made two trips into the water to aid swimmers out of a rip current in the swim zone, which is the area lifeguards set up marked with flags in which bathers are supposed to swim.

“What’s going on is you have this really nice wave action of two to four feet high,” explained Avery Graves, head lifeguard on Ocracoke with Duck Surf Rescue.  “It looks easy and fun, but the combination of this wave height, water level and wind makes for a good rip current.”

As Graves and her associate Rebecca Leventhal pointed out where the rip current was–right in front of the lifeguard stand–two groups of swimmers waved seeking help within about 15 minutes of each other.

Graves and Leventhal dashed into the surf with rescue buoys in hand and helped the swimmers back to the shore.

Graves said there were eight rescues Friday, totalling 15 so far this year.

The area of water in front of their stand has a deep area that causes the water to rush out faster. Graves said people can get swept into rip currents when they venture into water above their heads.

Lifeguard beach water
The area of water in the middle of this photograph, between the two areas of waves on the right and left, shows the rip current in front of the lifeguard stand at the Ocracoke Day Use beach.

“When we have these larger waves, they’re going to pull you out,” she said.  “People underestimate the ocean,  but I love explaining where the rip currents are.”

She and Levanthal directed swimmers to swim on either side of the rip current.

“The best place to swim is in front of the lifeguard stand,” she noted twice during an interview.

Graves, 23, who also is an EMT, responded along with Levanthal to Thursday’s drowning scene, but she could not comment on it.

While it was only Leventhal’s second day on the job and she attended the drowning on Thursday, this is Graves’ second year lifeguarding on Ocracoke.

Graves attended the shark attack victim on July 1 last year.

Andrew Costello, 67, of Wareham, Mass., was flown to Vidant Medical Center, Greenville, and was released after two weeks.

But as Graves and other officials point out, rip currents, not sharks are not the greatest danger at the beach.

“Although estimates vary, rip currents are responsible for approximately 150 deaths every year in the U.S. and likely thousands worldwide,” according to Dr. Stephen Leatherman’s website.  

Leatherman, also known as “Dr. Beach,” is America’s foremost expert on beaches, and also names his top 10 beaches in the United States each year. 

Ocracoke’s lifeguard beach was named the No. 1 beach in 2007, and this year was named the No. 4 beach.

Rip currents are like rivers in the sea, Leatherman says. They often look like an area of calm water between waves, but they are actually funneling out through a hole in the sand bar and into deep water.

The Park Service said that these two extremely unfortunate events serve as critical reminders that if you find yourself caught in a rip current, don’t swim against it.

Instead, remain calm and swim across the current, parallel to the shore, slowly working your way back to the beach at an angle. Signal for help if you need it.

To watch a NOAA video on rip currents, click here.

For information on rip currents, click here.

For Ocracoke news, click here.


lifeguard beach
Avery Graves on the lookout for swimmers in distress at the Ocracoke Day Use Beach, also known as the lifeguard beach. Photo: C. Leinbach
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