Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Tragedy in the Ocean

CNN reports on a tragic end to a Fourth of July vacation for two men in Hampton, NH. The two men entered a rip current, along with about ten others, to attempt to rescue a child caught in the current. Instead of saving the child, they became victims themselves. Although the Hampton Lifeguards were off duty at the time, they responded and were able to rescue everyone except for the child's father and another man, who were pulled unconscious from the water. From the CNN account, it appears that the guards did a great job once they returned to the scene.

Unfortunately, this type of incident occurs far too frequently on beaches around the world. The general public simply does not appreciate the power of the ocean. People regularly swim in un-guarded surf and do not know how to recognize and escape from rip currents. What makes this incident particularly appalling is that the guards had been keeping people out of that rip current all day, but as soon as they went off duty, these people jumped right in. The message to the public should be to always swim near a lifeguard and not to enter a rip current unless a person is very experienced in the surf.

Also of note in the article is the misuse of the words rip tide and undertow. A rip current killed those two men. A rip current is formed along a beach or next to a rock jetty when water uses a break in a sandbar to return out to sea after being pushed to shore by a wave. A rip tide is associated with the tides when a inland body of water (river or bay) meets an ocean. When the tide is falling, water will flow from the inland body of water into the ocean. When the tide is rising water will flow from the ocean into the inland body of water. Rip tides regularly change direction with the rising and falling tides, while rip currents always pull away from shore. There were likely not tidal effects in the two drowning. Undertow does not exist. Many people commonly refer to rip currents as undertow because they can feel the pull of a rip current more strongly on their feet than on their upper body. However, rip currents do not pull people under the water, they pull people away from shore. It is only as the swimmers become exhausted or begin to panic that they drown.

I hope to take a trip up to Hampton in the next couple of weeks to check out the beach and hopefully talk to a few of the guards.

1 comment:

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