MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WMBF) - Summer is just beginning, but there have already been at least 21 people killed as a result of rip currents, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Just this year, at least eight deaths have been reported on the North Carolina coast, with rip currents blamed for at least six of them.
Paige Merical, 17, lost her life after getting caught in a rip current in Emerald Isle, North Carolina in April 2019 while on spring break. Her family doesn’t want anyone else to feel the horrible loss.
John Merical says the emotions after two months are still so raw, as if his little girl drowned just yesterday.
“Our phone rang and it was from Paige and it was to my wife and she said something’s wrong, it’s Paige calling. When she answered the phone, it was a stranger. She said, listen, you don’t know me but your daughter was just pulled from the ocean and she’s being resuscitated as we speak, they’re doing CPR on her. And all I heard my wife say was is she breathing? And at that moment, our lives changed forever. I mean, it’s the last thing in the world I would have ever guessed,” said Merical.
Paige was taken to the hospital after she was spotted, but her brain was severely damaged. The 17-year old- Wake Forest High School student passed away a week later. Her friend,18- year old Ian Lewis, also got caught in the rip current and died.
Paige’s parents, John and Suzie, launched an organization in her honor to educate people about what to do if you get caught in a rip current.
The main message: “Don’t fight the rip current, float with it.” They plan to explain to beachgoers, swimmers and the general public how a rip current works and how to survive if caught in one. Paige’s parent’s don’t want anyone else to get a call like the one that changed their lives forever. They plan to visit as many coastal areas as they can along the east coast this summer, visiting beaches and pools, including the Grand Strand to raise awareness about the dangers of rip currents. They believe it’s one way they can keep Paige’s memory alive.
One of the tips John has learned about escaping rip currents is to float on your back instead of trying to fight against it. He also stresses the importance of having a flotation device that attaches to your wrist or ankle. He says one of the main misconceptions people have about rip currents is that it drags you under water, when in reality it pulls you away from the beach. For people who aren't strong swimmers, John says it’s safer to stay out of the ocean.
“What made that eight days that Paige lived a little easier on us is that she was an organ donor,” said Merical.
Paige’s organs helped save five lives, and her parents also want to educate folks about how to become an organ donor and the importance of it.
Paige’s parents have visited six places so far and say the response has been great so far. John says Paige loved coming to Myrtle Beach with her family growing up, and him and his wife plan to make a trip to the Grand Strand to educate the public on rip current safety in early July.
“We want to make it so there’s a number of people who are dying and getting these calls is reduced. I know realistically we can’t save them all , but we can cut the numbers down. And if it we cut down one, that’s one person that’s alive and one family that’s not destroyed," said Merical.
For more information on the “Don’t fight the rip” campaign, click here.