A man who had died after being pulled from the ocean by Wrightsville Beach lifeguards on Saturday had only been underwater for a brief time, having collapsed while lifeguards were swimming out to assist him, town officials said. The fire chief and lifeguard captain both said that lifeguards responded quickly and followed protocol during the rescue, including performing rescue breaths while in the ocean and performing CPR for upwards of 45 minutes.
On Wednesday, Wrightsville Beach police identified the victim as 55-year-old Bobby Lee Green Jr. of Salisbury, N.C.
Lifeguards spotted Green as he struggled to swim back to shore after swimming out past the wave break at about 11 a.m. on Saturday, Wrightsville Beach Ocean Rescue Capt. Jeremy Owens said. Lifeguards saw he was struggling against a rip current and were swimming out to rescue him when another lifeguard spotting him from shore with binoculars saw Green suddenly collapse, going face down in the water. Lifeguards reached Green a minute later and began performing emergency rescue breaths while in the water, he said.
Having fallen unconscious,Green became what lifeguards term a “passive victim,” requiring lifeguards to carry Green back to shore. Green weighed more than 200 pounds and required three lifeguards to swim him back through the surf, Owens said.
On the beach, lifeguards, firefighters and emergency medical responders did CPR on Green for 30 to 45 minutes, Owens said. Responders continued CPR on Green as he was moved from the beach to a nearby ambulance in the bed of a Wrightsville Beach Ocean Rescue truck. He was declared dead in the ambulance.
Wrightsville Beach Fire Chief Glen Rogers said that while Green fell in distress in the water, other medical issues could have been the cause of death, with only the medical examiner being able to rule the death a drowning. The medical examiner’s report wasn’t available at press time.
“We don’t know exactly what happened,” Owens said of the death, indicating that Green’s sudden collapse could have signaled another medical problem. “Sometimes you do everything right and it’s not the outcome you want.”
Rogers said that two of the lifeguards who swam out to Green were among the most experienced on the squad, with one being the fastest swimmer. He said Wrightsville Beach Ocean Rescue director Dave Baker and Owens were both on scene to supervise the rescue. Owens and Both Rogers and Owens praised the response from lifeguards.
“The guards did everything right,” Owens said. “They were on it. They saw that he was in trouble.”
The death was another incident in what has been a busy summer season for lifeguards on Wrightsville Beach and across North Carolina. Two other swimmers also died last Saturday on North Carolina beaches, media reports indicate.
And on July 11, while a tropical storm churned off the coast, Wrightsville Beach lifeguards made 72 rescues.
This week, in response to the news of the death, a woman expressed her appreciation for Wrightsville Beach lifeguards in an email to members of the town’s board and ocean rescue staff. She said that after a lifeguard had warned her about the elevated rip current dangers on July 12, she was more vigilant in watching over her children, and later watched the same lifeguard make several runs into the water to assist swimmers.
“I cannot tell you the number of rescues I witnessed,’ the woman wrote. “ I personally saw him rescue a son while his father watched helplessly from the other side of the waves, and I watched him save a non-English-speaking teenage girl in front of her family.”
The Saturday incident was another in a series of “passive victims” that lifeguards have brought to shore on Wrightsville Beach, Rogers said.. In June, a rookie lifeguard led the rescue of a 10-year-old boy who collapsed in the waves and was revived after the lifeguard performed emergency resuscitation on the child. And on Sunday, July 15, lifeguards pulled in a man in his 40s who had suffered a cervical spine injury, creating a passive victim who had to be immobilized.
Wrightsville Beach lifeguards had undergone refresher CPR training on the previous Friday and several lifeguards were able to respond to the scene, Owens said. Ocean rescue officials will talk with the guards individually after a rescue and offer the support that they need, he said.
“Everyone wants everyone who comes to the beach to be safe and have a good time, that’s what hurts so much. They all care so much about that,” Owens said. “After it’s over, they have to get back up in the stands and get back to watching the ocean. That’s part of being a guard.”
Green is survived by his mother, Elizabeth Marie Smother, wife, Ramie Gail Green, daughter Joanna Marie Brandow, three sisters, one brother, three nephews, five nieces, five great nephews and one great niece. His memorial service is scheduled for Sunday, July 29, at 4 p.m. at Harvest Church in Charlotte.