Quick thinking by an off-duty Eastpoint law enforcement officer saved two young swimmers last week from dangerous rip currents.
On Wednesday, June 5, Deputy Lawrence Brannan and his wife were sunbathing on the public beach near the Blue Parrot with his youngest son. Five to six foot waves were breaking on the shore and Brannan had just cautioned his son, who was newly arrived from Kentucky, about rip currents.
Brannan said the family had been on the beach about 30 minutes when he noticed two men at the edge of the water who appeared to be in distress. While he watched, they attempted to swim into the Gulf but were knocked down by the waves and forced to return to the beach.
On rising, Brannan spotted two heads bobbing beyond the breaking surf and realized someone had been dragged offshore and was trapped on a sandbar.
While he continued to watch, a kayaker tried to reach the swimmers, both boys in their early teens, but the boater failed to reach them and was forced back to shore.
“I thought nobody was going to be able to reach them and, being from here, I grew up swimming,” Brannan said. “I decided I needed to help.”
Brannan ran to the scene and learned that one of the men who first attempted to reach the boys was their father. The deputy entered the water and brought the younger of the two children back to the beach.
“He had taken on some water and was in more distress,” Brannan said.
Brannan then retrieved the older boy. First Responders soon arrived on the scene.
Susan Ficklen, who examined the boys, said they did not need to be hospitalized. She said the family returned home to Woodville immediately after the incident.
“It was a good ending; that’s what we like,” said Brannan.
Brannan stressed that he is a strong swimmer and cautioned others not to enter dangerous water.
A Blue Parrot employee who saw the incident said sheriff’s deputies and Fire Chief Jay Abbott patrolled the beach afterwards, ordering people to leave the water because of the dangerous currents.
Ficklen said there have been a number of calls for swimmers in distress over the last week.
Over Memorial Day weekend, with double red flags flying, many people ignored instructions from rangers to leave the water at the Dr. Julian Bruce St. George Island State Park. One man was pulled from the water in front of the western pavilions and hospitalized. The same afternoon, rescue workers were called to aid a group of eight swimmers trapped offshore at the eastern pavilions.
Brannan warned about lack of respect for strong Gulf currents. “When you think you got it whooped, it’s gonna beat you back down,” he said.
The National Weather Service offers the following advice to stay safe when swimming in coastal waters.
· Never swim alone and learn the meaning of warning flags. A double red flag means the beach is closed to the public.
· If you are caught in a rip current, also called an undertow, remain calm to conserve energy and think clearly. Never fight the current; swim parallel the shoreline. When out of the current, swim at an angle away from the current and towards shore.
· If you are unable to swim out of the rip current, float or calmly tread water. When out of the current, swim towards shore.
· If you are still unable to reach shore, draw attention to yourself by waving your arm and yelling for help.
· If you see someone in trouble, get help from a lifeguard or by dialing 911. Throw the rip current victim something that floats and yell instructions on how to escape.
· Remember, many people drown while trying to save someone else from a rip current.