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Thursday, April 7, 2011

Dramatic Rescue of Overturned Kayakers as they are Swept to Sea!

Two young women kayakers, while kayaking in the South Edisto Beach SC inlet, turn over into chilly 65 dF water. The tides are briskly running out to sea, sweeping the young women out to sea with it.

Winds at 15 mph build up white-capped waves as the retreating tide runs into the wind. It's crystal clear, or Sever Clear as pilots say.

The two young women, one on a yellow kayak and the other on a white kayak, both wearing life vest, apparently are unable to right their overturned kayaks, so stay in the chilly 65 dF water while clinging to their kayaks.

The yellow kayak has taken on water, as evidenced by one end being submerged, and the other end begins to point skyward.

The boats begin to separate as the partially submerged kayak is dragged slower through inlet on its way to the sea.

Earlier, my wife and I, are witnessing this while sitting at the "32nd Beach Access" point at the surf. It's about 1:00 PM on Thursday, April 7, 2011. We are located about here: 32.482095,-80.341412 (cut/paste into search field for satellite map of this area).

I earlier noticed a yellow kayak about here: 32.497471,-80.355008 It was moving North across the channel. It's at an awkward to the direction my chair is facing, over my right shoulder, so I don't watch it for very long at a time. It's also a long way away.

Later, when I looked back that way, I don't see the yellow kayak, so I assume it had made it across the channel to the little creek that runs along the west edge of Edisto Island.

After a while, I noticed that there is a white something in the water, near something yellow but not where I had seen the yellow kayak earlier - this was South of where I had observed the yellow kayak, further away from Edisto Island. At this time I didn't recognize the yellow something as probably being the yellow kayak I had seen earlier, as I begin to think I am viewing one long, skinny boat, with white and yellow portions on it, riding low in the water. I don't see any people at this time, and don't understand what I'm looking at yet. Each time I look, my perception is that I'm looking at something different as the distance makes everything a guess.

My wife sees them, asks if that is a sailboat. I tell her it appears to be some sort of sail, so maybe its a windsurfer. She agrees and we look away. I am now mildly interested in wondering what I'm looking at, so every few minutes I turn to look at it, and ever so gradually I become aware that I'm looking at two boats (not yet realizing they are overturned kayaks) one yellow and one white, that are low in the water. I decide they are two wind surfers, with their riders in the water next to them.

The tide, moving quickly, is bringing both boats towards us.

I realize they are two young women, and that they are holding onto two overturned kayaks instead of windsurfers. That's interesting!

The riders don't appear to be in any distress as they approach - they are just riding with the waves, holding onto their kayaks as the tide carries them towards us, and towards the ocean. They are maybe 200 feet from shore. They have already gone past several groups of people on the beach, never raising their hands in any sort of attempt to signal they may need help, so it just appears to us that they are taking a break and will either turn their boats upright soon, or else pull them to shore. No one on shore takes any particular interest in them. I see people look at them, then look at other, more interesting things. They don't hold anyone's attention.

Having spent the early part of my life on the water, with a lot of time in kayaks, canoes and small boats, I wasn't concerned with the kayaks being overturned, as in my experience, they are fairly easy to upright and climb back on board. That, along with no signals from the young women, leads me to think there are no safety issues involved.

Sometime about now we hear an emergency vehicle's siren - it approaches us from the East, then goes behind us on its movement to the West, the sound of it gradually being lost. Since it went past us, we didn't associate the emergency vehicle with the two women and their kayaks.

The speed with which they are being swept out to sea through the inlet is surprising; in no time at all, they will be out of the sound and into the open white-capped ocean. This does begin to concern me, so I begin looking to see if they appear to be in any distress - they do not; they make no signals to any of the clusters of people on the beach, including one large cluster surrounding a surf fisher who is in a fight with something large; so large he is moving with the tide while fighting it. Most people are watching the fisherman fight what later turns out to be a large Stingray. I think it probably weights 8 - 10 pounds or more. The women just appear to be taking a ride along the channel, watching us watching them.

About the time I begin to become somewhat concerned about the young women, signaling distress or not, I see a boat approaching the inlet from the ocean. I note that one of the kayaks, the yellow one, has one end partially submerged while the other end is lifted out of the water. Over time, I note that this tilt becomes more evident, and realize it's probably taking on water, not just a shift in items that the woman may have stored inside of it.

The returning boat spots the women, slows and begins to head towards the women - they are still no further out then 200 feet or so from shore. The boat approaches the yellow kayak first. I can't see what they are doing because the boat is positioned between me and the kayak. As this is taking place, I see a Edisto Beach ATV with emergency personnel coming up the beach from the West, and realize they are probably associated with the emergency vehicle's siren we heard earlier. They had probably put in near the area where I first observed the yellow Kayak, and someone probably called them from near that point, maybe having seen the kayaks overturn.

Several people get out of the ATV, wearing uniforms, and cluster on the beach near the boat and kayaks. They debate on what to do, then appear to decide that the boat is doing what needs to be done, so they wait.

The boat pulls away from the overturned yellow kayak, and I can now see that there's no one with that kayak anymore, so they must have pulled the woman into the boat. The boat makes its way to the white boat, and takes that person on board, leaving the white and yellow overturned kayaks in the tide, drifting out to sea.

I look at the people on the beach - this has all been so gradual, with no signals for distress, that probably less then half the people on the beach are aware there's even anything going on. The fisherman with his Stingray has been the center of attention.

About this time a US Coast Guard helicopter, coming in from the ocean (we had observed it going out on its daily patrol about 12:40 PM), swings through the channel, heading west, turns north towards us, and makes a low pass along the surf just above the kayaks and emergency personnel. It then moves out to the East edge of Edisto Beach and moves North.

The boat brings the two young women to the edge of the surf, where they climb out of the boat under their own power and make their way to the surf. They appear to be of college age. They both sit down. One begins to cry. Some of the emergency crew comes over and gives them hugs. They are obviously deeply concerned and shaken about what has happened. The emergency crew takes the women away, one at a time. As the first leaves, the RTV comes within 10 feet of me with the first of the women. I wave at her; she just looks at me and doesn't respond at all. The ATV returns to pick up the other woman and the two kayaks, which the boat has managed to collect and bring back to shore. The emergency crew loads the kayaks on board, then disappears west along the beach.

In reflection, I wonder why the women have never made any attempt to signal that they might be having a problem. Instead, they left everything up to people on the beach to deduce what was going on and take action. They didn't yell, wave their arms, or anything. It was like they were just meekly going with the tide to meet their fate.

Seeing so many surfboarders and windsurfers in the water next to small craft has conditioned most of us to not realize someone might be having difficulties. If they had been just a little further out in the inlet, no one would have been able to see that they were with overturned kayaks instead of other water craft, and they would have been swept out to the ocean. They were within 1000 feet of the end of the inlet at the ocean when they were rescued.

They just watched all of us on the beach, with some of us watching them, as they were being swept out to sea.

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