Sadly, a relaxing day at the beach can swiftly turn to tragedy, as happened on Amelia Island and nearby on Little Talbot Island in northeast Florida.
With “Rip Current Awareness Week,” nearing (June 7-13, 2015) and in the aftermath of recent events, a reminder and review of rip currents seems timely, especially since the summer beach season is also upon us. A dream day at the seashore can quickly become a nightmare.
Beware Rip Currents
Three people in northeast Florida drowned recently, overwhelmed by strong ocean currents. Two men and one child disappeared in the surf and were not recovered. This was not one incident, but three separate distress calls and rescue/search efforts that, sadly, did not end well.
Little Talbot Island Drownings
Two incidents occurred at Little Talbot Island. Note that no lifeguards are on duty at this nearby Florida State Park (entering the water on the north-end beaches is at one’s own risk). However, swimming and wading is not allowed at all on the south end of the park (south of Boardwalk 4) because of “dropoffs and dangerous currents of the Ft. George River inlet.”
Fernandina Beach Drowning
The tragedy in Fernandina Beach began near city beach access 13 when a 33-year-old man tried to rescue two teenage relatives who were in distress. The search for the missing Georgia man (later identified as Steve Shaw) included coast guard, sheriff and police boats, plus aerial surveillance via helicopter, and went on for several hours along shoreline waters into the evening (then resumed the next morning before being called off). A few days later, skeletal remains were discovered on the beach (north of Fernandina beach access #6), but identification has not yet been determined and/or released.
Did you know that wading in relatively shallow water (less than waist deep) can be dangerous with the threat of rip currents?
The sequence of events reported in the Fernandina Beach incident indicated the teens were wading in “knee-deep water” when knocked down by a wave and then caught in the grip of a strong current. Mr. Shaw’s attempt to rescue them turned into a tragic loss of life (lifeguards arrived on the scene and were able to rescue the teenagers, but Mr. Shaw had reportedly disappeared). More than a dozen lifeguards who arrived on the scene conducted a “water grid search” attempting to find Mr. Shaw. The incident started near beach access 13, more than half a mile south of Main Beach Park (and north of Seaside Park).
According to collected data, “Rip currents account for more than 80 percent of rescues performed by beach lifeguards.”
According to the city of Fernandina Beach ocean rescue web page, “The greatest safety precaution that can be taken is to recognize the danger of rip currents and always remember to swim at beaches with lifeguards. The United States Lifesaving Association has calculated the chance that a person will drown while attending a beach protected by USLA affiliated lifeguards at 1 in 18 million.” Find out more about rip currents at the city website.
OCEAN RESCUE LIFEGUARD STANDS
For the summer season of 2015, there are six beach parks/areas of the Amelia Island shoreline where lifeguards are stationed daily from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend. The two largest Amelia Island beach parks (biggest parking lots, free beach access):
— Main Beach Park – 4 guard stands
— Peter’s Point Park — 4 guard stations
OCEAN RESCUE LIFEGUARDS: Smaller parking lots (free beach access):
— Seaside Park (near Slider’s) — 2 guard stands
— North Beach Park — 1 guard stand
— Scott Road — 1 guard stand
— Burney Park — 1 guard stand
NOTE: There are no lifeguards stationed within Amelia Island State Park or Fort Clinch State Park.
Beach Warning Flags, Surf Conditions
All the stationed beach parks on Amelia Island have warning flags posted about ocean conditions along with signs about the meaning of different colored flags, as well as signs about rip currents and how to try to escape their grip. When entering the beach, pay attention to the flags.
Emergency/distress calls for ocean rescue are answered as quickly as possible along 12 miles of Amelia Island shoreline. But logistically, the extra time can make a difference. Bystanders who witness someone in distress or realize someone is missing have to call 911 and wait for ocean rescue personnel to travel to their spot on the beach. That is why experts recommend that those planning to go into the ocean should always enter the water near lifeguard stations. Please have a safe summer at the beach!