A father and daughter caught in a riptide off Nantucket this week were helped by an unlikely tool — a selfie stick — and a stranger in an orange swimsuit.
Derrick Johns, 45, of Austin, Texas, went for a swim at Nobadeer Beach Tuesday afternoon with his 16-year-old, daughter, Erynn, who had a GoPro camcorder on a selfie stick attached to her wrist and managed to capture the ordeal on video.
The afternoon began as a casual, family beach day. Derrick Johns pretended to be a shark with his daughters, while Erynn brought her camera into the water to film the waves.
As they were swimming, the two soon realized they were caught in a riptide and could not swim back to shore.
Derrick and Erynn Johns are both physically fit: He is a former Marine and she is a soccer player.
“Even being athletic, there was nothing I could have done,” Erynn said. Her father described the moment as, “total, sheer terror.”
The video shows bubbles and swirling water as father and daughter fight the riptide.
Screams of “I can’t!” and “Come on!” blend with the roar of the ocean.
Jennifer Johns saw her husband and daughter struggling and ran into the water, getting caught in the riptide, too.
“They got pummeled in the tide for some time,” Derrick Johns said in a phone interview Thursday. “All I saw was my wife and daughter not coming up.”
He was able to use the selfie stick to pull his daughter back toward shore, where she was rescued by a man in an orange swimsuit, who was identified Thursday as Tommy Vach, 55, of Ocean City, Md.
“For me it’s a no-brainer,” Vach said in a phone interview. “They were in dire need.”
Lifeguards saved Jennifer Johns, her husband said, while the man in the orange swimsuit went into the water to try to save him.
Vach described Derrick Johns as semiconscious and in need of medical attention when he first staggered onto the beach.
The two lifeguards at the scene, Claire Moison and Alex Haur, helped the family and gave them oxygen once they made it to the shore, said Sheila Lucey, the harbormaster in Nantucket. She said the incident took place about 500 yards outside of a guarded area.
“I was a Marine, and I’ve been in some pretty harrowing situations,” Derrick Johns said. “That one was the scariest, because it wasn’t just me, it was my wife and daughter.”
This has been a particularly difficult year for riptides on Nantucket, Lucey said. There have been 135 rescues and assists by lifeguards since the beaches opened on July, 1, she said. Sometimes, Lucey said, there are only 55 rescues in an entire summer.
“I’m glad it all worked out for them,” Lucey said.
By the end of the afternoon on Thursday, the family had tracked down Vach and thanked him. They took a photograph together, with Vach holding up his orange swimsuit for the camera.
Now, the Johns family is looking forward to getting back to enjoying the rest of its vacation.
“We’re just going to relax,” Erynn Johns said.
Monica Disare can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.