A man entered the water with his son and two daughters around 13th Street in the afternoon over the Fourth of July weekend. It was a beautiful day with small, clean waves and green water. The beach was crowded.
The children ranged from a very young daughter to a teenager. The little girl was in a lifejacket. They waded out to a sandbar that was about 30 yards from the shoreline and were in 3 to 4 feet of water. Even though they were well within the designated swimming limit of 50 yards and in a guarded area, a relaxing day at the beach took a turn for the worse.
Senior Lifeguard Charlotte Blacketer relieved the tower 13 lifeguard for his lunch break. Blacketer is an experienced guard who’s one of the Junior Lifeguard Program instructors. Because she’s serious about lifeguarding and because she’s constantly on the move with the junior guard program, Blacketer maintains a high level of fitness and keeps her lifeguard and medical response skills sharp. This was what tipped the scale on this particular day.
The small girl drifted a little farther than her family group. The two bigger children stayed where they were while the dad walked toward her. Suddenly, he stepped off the sandbar into water over his head. He didn’t know how to swim.
Blacketer heard screaming and saw people pointing in the direction of the man struggling in the water. Blacketer reacted quickly, grabbing buoy and fins, and sprinting into the water. She automatically used well-practiced techniques of high-stepping, then dolphining, then rolling over to quickly put on her fins before powering out toward the man.
On the way, she looked up periodically. Through the sunlight reflected on splashing water, she spotted the man’s head briefly. She caught a glimpse of a bystander swimming while pulling the little girl in the lifejacket toward shore. Looking up to try to see the man’s head again, she saw the two other children in the safe and shallow area in her peripheral vision.
As she neared the area where she’d spotted the man’s head, she switched to breaststroke, so she could get a good look around. She didn’t see anything. She felt the bottom drop out of her stomach as it hit her that she’d lost the man and he’d gone under right in front of his children.
But then she spotted some bubbles breaking the surface about 10 feet in front of her. She sprinted to the bubbles, did a surface dive, and swam down while keeping her eyes open. She saw a body face down floating beneath her with its arms spread wide.
Blacketer remembers grabbing him and pulling him to the surface. She doesn’t remember how she got her rescue tube wrapped around him, but as she swam him in, he started moaning and coughing. Other guards came out to help pull him in and put him on oxygen. He was semi-conscious by the time we loaded him in the ambulance and was reported to be stable later that day in the hospital.