Outlive A Killer Rip Current

A marriage celebration on the eastern Atlantic coast of Florida turned to tragedy three days after the wedding when an Iowa man got caught in an ocean rip current his first time in the ocean and drowned three days after the marriage.

Dalton and Cheyenne Cottrell, both 22 years old, were married on July 27, 2019, in Missouri. Both were enrolled at Faith Baptist Bible College and Theological Seminary in Ankeny, Iowa. Dalton was on track to becoming a pastor.

On July 30, the newlywed Cottrells were swimming at St. Augustine’s Crescent Beach, south of Jacksonville, during their honeymoon trip from Iowa. The St. John’s County Sheriff’s Office filed an incident report which said that the couple was “carried out deeper into the ocean due to the current.”

Someone on the beach heard screaming from the water, headed out on a paddleboard, and joined a rescuing lifeguard. The two found the Cottrells and got them back to shore. A rescuer was performing CPR on the swimmer when deputies arrived. Dalton was transported to a local hospital where he was pronounced dead.

Cheyenne Cottrell survived the ordeal and told deputies that her husband of three days “started to freak out” after the current began to pull them away from shore.

Dalton rewarded her efforts to help him by pulling her under the water repeatedly, threatening her life. Cheyenne watched, helpless, as Dalton then went under for more than a minute.

In a July 31 Facebook post, Mrs. Cottrell wrote that “3 days of wedded bliss turned into a nightmare very quickly. There is so much fear and uncertainty coursing through myself. Never did I think at 22 would I be a wife and then a widow so quickly.”

Even an experienced swimmer can drown in an unexpected rip current. On July 25, 19-year-old Jayla Tassin from Louisana was visiting Orlando, Florida, with her family who went to Daytona Beach for a day of fun in the sun.

A rip current, followed by a powerful wave, dragged the recent high school graduate under the water and pulled her deeper into the ocean. Natalie Robottom, president of the St. John the Baptist Parish, posted on Facebook:

“Although she was a great swimmer, Jayla was no match for the rip current that pulled her underwater in a moment’s notice. Subsequently, a large wave swept her out and under deeper water. Despite a valiant effort to save her, Jayla never recovered.”

Jayla’s father Bernard Tassin said that the Florida excursion was supposed to celebrate the upcoming departure of Jayla and her brother to college at the end of the summer. Instead, he lost his daughter:

“A rip current came under and she had to panic. She lost all ability to fight.”

On May 26, a swimmer at Daytona Beach drowned after he was pulled from the surf in front of an unguarded lifeguard tower. Nearby beach-goers came to the rescue and tried to revive the man. Marissa Purvis said:

“We tried to keep his head up, and then we got him out and I started doing chest compressions.”

That day, Memorial Sunday, more than 130 rescues occurred in Volusia County, Florida alone. A search for a missing 11-year-old caught in the currents by rescuers in Jacksonville who had combed the waters for two days by boat and helicopter was called off.

On May 6, a U.S. Marine stationed at Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, Florida, drowned Saturday afternoon off Emerald Isle in North Carolina when flags flew indicating a moderate risk of strong currents. Police did not say for certain that that Justin A. Hinds, 28, of Avondale, Arizona, was caught in a rip current:

“When emergency responders arrived on scene, the swimmer…had already been pulled from the water by friends who were at the beach with him.

Life saving efforts initiated by Emerald Isle EMS and fire department personnel and Mr. Hinds was transported to Carteret Health Care where he was pronounced dead by hospital staff.”

Hinds was the fourth reported drowning death in two weeks off North Carolina’s popular beaches which, like those elsewhere along the Atlantic Coast, are notable for their strong rip currents.

Rip currents form when water moves away from the shoreline. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) says that rip currents typically form at breaks in sandbars and near structures such as jetties and piers.

A rip current may be signaled by a change in the water color or a line of foam or seaweed.

According to NOAA, strong rip currents have dragged victims out to sea at speeds of one to two feet per second. “However, some rip currents have been measured at 8 feet per second – faster than any Olympic swimmer ever recorded.”

Someone caught in a rip current can be swept away from shore very quickly. Because they move perpendicular to shore and can be very strong, beach swimmers need to exercise extreme caution.

Survive being caught in a rip current:

  1. STAY CALM and DON’T PANIC. Keep breathing and focus on keeping your head above water. Orient yourself by visually locating the shoreline.
  2. Conserve your energy. Don’t exhaust yourself fighting against the force of the current or a rescuer.
  3. Swim parallel to the shoreline instead of towards it until the current weakens. Most rip currents are less than 80 feet wide.

– or –

Let the current carry you out to sea until the force weakens. Rip currents stay close to shore and usually dissipate just beyond the line of breaking waves.

  1. Once free of the rip current, swim to shore.

Rarely, a rip current can push someone hundreds of yards offshore. The best chance of staying alive is to keep your wits and use natural forces to help you break free of the ocean’s power.