Chapel Hill, N.C. — A Chapel Hill man who barely survived after getting caught in a rip current along the North Carolina coast last month is calling for more warnings about dangerous surf conditions.
Scott Walker and his family were vacationing on Oak Island on June 28 and decided to take a last walk on the beach before heading home. Once in the water, however, Walker was quickly caught in a rip current.
"I really thought I might die," he said Monday.
Following instructions he's heard all of his life, the 44-year-old swam parallel to the beach and made it back to shore, where he suffered a massive heart attack.
"He exhausted everything in his body, and his heart just couldn't take that much stress," said his wife, Jennifer Halloran.
"In the space of 12 hours, I almost died twice," said Walker, who returned to work this week after recuperating at home from the vacation ordeal.
"They said the kind (of heart attack) that I had was a 'widow-maker.' Ninety percent of the time, it's fatal," he said.
Within a week of Walker escaping a rip current, four other people people died in similar currents off Brunswick County beaches. He and Halloran said beach towns need to post more notice to warn swimmers of the potential for rip currents.
"(There needs to be) either a flag system or some kind of sign, even a sign that says there is the potential for dangerous rip currents on this beach," Halloran said.
Brunswick County officials said they have no jurisdiction over the beaches, which are governed by the six towns along the coast.
Town ordinances for warning swimmers of rip currents vary, from electronic signs on beaches to refrigerator magnets in rental properties to brochures available for visitors.
"We have posted those signs as close to the beach as is allowed, and you have to pass them when you walk onto the beach," Oak Island Mayor Betty Wallace said.
The town and some of its neighbors are also considering flags. Representatives of the six towns plan to meet next month to discuss the recent rip current deaths and possible ways to improve safety.
"Before we order up a bunch of flags, we need to look and see where they would be most effective," Wallace said, adding that Oak Island tried to use warning flags in the 1980s but discontinued the practice because beach-goers would take them as souvenirs.
Walker and Halloran said they hope to see more warnings soon. If they had seen one on June 28, they said, they never would have gone in the water.
"We would have all been saved a lot of heartache," Halloran said.