Father drowns at Wrightsville Beach trying to help son struggling against current

Wrightsville Beach
Wrightsville Beach(WECT)
Published: Sep. 8, 2021 at 11:06 AM EDT
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WRIGHTSVILLE BEACH, N.C. (WECT) - A man visiting Wrightsville Beach from Hickory drowned over Labor Day weekend trying to rescue his son

The family was fishing at the south end of Wrightsville Beach Saturday around 10:30 a.m. when the father, Bhou Soutthivong, went in to help his son who was struggling as a tidal current pulled him away from shore.

Kayakers were able to help the son, but couldn’t help the father. Captain Trevor Smith was on a fishing charter near the point when the kayakers flagged his boat down.

Captain Smith takes clients out fishing in the same area each day, but his trip Saturday is one he will never forget.

“I say a prayer for the family every morning the past two or three mornings I pass by,” said Captain Trevor Smith.

Smith says at first he could only see the child in the water. What he couldn’t see was that the boy was holding the hand of his father, who by then was completely submerged in the inlet.

His client jumped from the boat to pull the father and son into the boat. Smith performed CPR and contacted the Coast Guard on the radio.

A volunteer firefighter hopped on the boat to help with CPR as they rushed the pair to the US Coast Guard Station around the inlet.

Coast Guard personnel, Wrightsville Beach Ocean Rescue crews and EMS fought to save Soutthivong’s life, but after 45 minutes of CPR, the father was pronounced dead.

“The little boy’s gonna be ok, the kiddo, when we pulled him over, he immediately collapsed on the boat. I presume adrenaline was keeping them going,” said Smith. “I’m just glad we got to him.”

Captain Smith remembers the beach was packed that day and there were dozens of people in the water, many of which who didn’t know what danger lurked under the water’s surface.

Just a few feet off the beach, there’s a steep drop off and the water becomes very deep, very quickly. The water looks calm from the shore, but several dangerous currents run nonstop off the inlet.

Lifeguards in trucks and ATVs patrol the area but there are no lifeguard stands on that stretch of beach, no signs warning about dangerous currents, and countless visitors who don’t know about the currents.

“The inlet is a giant rip current at all times and people don’t realize that and it’s dangerous. It’s really sad and I believe it could’ve been a possibly preventable tragedy,” said Smith.

Town leaders say there’s no lifeguard stands in the area because they don’t recommend swimming near the currents.

When asked about signage in the area, the Wrightsville Beach town manager said there has not yet been any discussion about adding warning signs to the accesses.

“Our sincere condolences go out to the family as they deal with this tragic event. We would like to thank all those that helped with this incident,” the Wrightsville Beach Police Department wrote in a statement to media.

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