Wrightsville Beach lifeguards pulled at least nine people from rough rip currents this afternoon, including a dramatic board rescue where five people struggling in the surf clung to a lifeguard’s rescue board waiting for help from other guards.
Wrightsville Beach Ocean Rescue Lt. Greg Still steadied the five struggling swimmers on the board while as many as seven lifeguards swam out with buoys to shuttle them back into shore one-by-one. No one needed to go to the hospital after the rescues, officials said. The heavy wave conditions at the shoreline didn’t allow lifeguards to bring in all those rescued on the board.
“They were panicking,” Still said. “They realized they couldn’t get back in.”
The rescue was part of a series of rescues that occurred after 4 p.m. today, with the first occurring south of Johnnie Mercer’s pier, where two swimmers were pulled out by lifeguards.
At 5 p.m., after the lifeguards were released, several stayed around due to the rough conditions fueled by Hurricane Irma and other factors.
However, near Stone Street’s Access. No. 29, as many as seven people were caught in rip currents, including the five swept away together.
A swarm of ATVs and rescues trucks responded to the scene, witnesses said.
“It was stirred up. It was like a washing machine,” said Bret Russell of Wilmington, who witnessed the rescue. “I thought I was in relaxation mode but it’s easy to get winded out there.”
Still said one victim on the board was so winded that it required two lifeguards, plus the assistance of a third, to pull them back in.
Wrightsville Beach Fire Chief Glen Rogers said that after a slow summer with little activity, the lifeguards got a test at the season’s end that showed the level of their training.
“It was a sea of red and black,” Rogers said, describing the rescue. “It was rolling in very heavy. It was tough.”
Wrightsville Beach will take down the rest of its lifeguard stands on Saturday, Rogers said, part of a decision made earlier in the week to take down the stands before storm season.