October 2, 2016

Coast Guard searching for missing swimmer off Salvo


The U.S. Coast Guard has taken over the search for a missing swimmer off the Salvo beach in the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, according to the seashore's chief ranger Boone Vandzura.

Vandzura said a call came in at 10:06 this morning for a water rescue for a man drifting out into the ocean.  

The man and several friends had been on the beach running in and out of the surf, Vandzura said, when the man, a 55-year-old visitor, started struggling in the water and drifting away. He added that a rip current is thought to have been involved and that the man had no flotation device.

Chicamacomico Banks Water Rescue assisted the National Park Service and other first responders in searching for the missing swimmer. According to a Coast Guard spokesman, one of the water rescue crew members had a hand on the swimmer, but he was swept away by the waves.

When the agencies had no success in locating him, the Coast Guard was called in.

Petty Office 3rd Class Corinne Zilnicki said this afternoon that the Coast Guard received a call for assistance about 10:30 a.m. and sent a 47-foot motor life boat from Station Oregon Inlet and a Jayhawk helicopter from Station Elizabeth City to the scene.

Zilnicki said that the Chicamacomico Banks Water Rescue continues to dive to try to find the swimmer and that the Coast Guard will continue searching until sunset.

"We are deeply saddened by this situation," Vandzura said.  "Our thoughts are with the family and friends of this gentleman."

With various tropical systems hanging around out in the ocean during much of September, the rip current risk in the seashore has been high for much of the past month. 

There have already been five drowning deaths this summer on the seashore -- all of them are thought to involve rip currents. Two were on Ocracoke -- a 64-year-old woman on Aug. 11 and a 67-year-old man on July 21. A 71-year-old man drowned near the Frisco Pier on July 22. And, on Sept. 9, a 71 year-old man and a 55-year-old man who tried to rescue him both drowned in the ocean off Rodanthe.

Rip currents are the number-one public safety risk on beaches in the United States, according to the National Weather Service, and they are the most frequent cause of drowning deaths at the seashore.

The National Weather Service issues rip current forecasts each day, and today's risk was ranked as high north of Cape Lookout. The National Weather Service says there is a good chance it will remain high for much of the week as Hurricane Matthew moves into the Atlantic.

Rip currents are powerful, usually narrow channeled currents of water, flowing away from shore. They typically extend from the shoreline, through the surf zone, and past the line of breaking waves. Rip currents can occur at any beach with breaking waves.

Swimmers are advised to use extreme caution and to never try to swim directly back into shore against a rip current because you will become quickly exhausted.  If you become caught in a rip current, you should yell for help and remain calm.  Do not exhaust yourself and try to stay afloat while waiting for help.  If you have to swim out of a rip current, swim parallel to shore and then back to the beach when possible.


The National Weather Service's beach/rip current forecast is available on the Island Free Press home page -- at the top on the right hand side. Look for the colorful umbrellas. It is also available at http://www.weather.gov/beach/mhx.

More on rip current safety is available at http://www.ripcurrents.noaa.gov/.

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