Local Family Loses Son in Deadly Rip Current - KTRE.com | Lufkin and Nacogdoches, Texas

Family loses son in deadly rip current at Outer Banks


A fun-in-the-sun family vacation turned into unimaginable heartbreak for one local family when a teenager drowned trying to save his brother. And it happened at one of the most popular travel destinations for Richmonders: the Outer Banks.

It was a gorgeous day. "The boys were playing in the ocean and I was sitting up on the sand," said Amy Ridpath. She and her husband, Al, along with two of their three children were enjoying the fourth day of a weeklong family vacation. They were on Frisco Beach on Hatteras Island. Amy was watching her sons in the water when she saw as they were suddenly swept down the beach.

"While I was walking down there, I realized there was something very bad and very serious going on," said Ridpath

Seth Ridpath, 15,was pulled into a dangerous rip current. His brother Matt, 22, did what any brother would: He went in after him.

"We were really really close to losing both of them," said their father.

A stranger pulled both boys out of the water. Matt had managed to save his brother, but was in bad shape.

"Just the ocean water coming out of his mouth and nose. His eyes rolled back into his head. When I saw Matt, I realized how bad the situation was. Seth, I could see that he was breathing. He was not conscious but he was breathing," Amy Ridpath said through tears.

Sometimes there just aren't enough words for the ocean's unpredictable fury.

Al shook his head in stunned silence for several seconds before saying, "The whole thing is just amazing."

"You take your family on vacation looking to have a good time, and a beautiful day, and just all of a sudden one of your children is just gone. Just gone," added Amy.

Matt Ridpath died the most selfless way possible, saving his little brother. He's one of eight people to drown in rip currents along the North Carolina coast last summer.

Four people drowned in rip currents during the fourth of July holiday alone. In all eight drownings, there were no lifeguards on the beaches.

"There were a number of drownings last summer, which was not typical of certain of those areas," said Tom Gill of the United States Lifesaving Association. He said someone's chances of dying in a rip current lower dramatically when lifeguards are around.

"We have lifeguards that see people in trouble before they even realize they are in trouble, and they effect a rescue before the true swimmer becomes in serious distress," Gill said.

There were 86 drownings on U.S. beaches last year. Seventy of those deaths were at beaches with no lifeguard.

"I want to see change happen. I want those tourist areas to have to be responsible for the visitors that come and spend their hard earned dollars in these towns," said Amy Ridpath. 

Rip currents are the greatest threat along the North Carolina coast.  According to the National Weather Service, North Carolina is listed fourth in the nation for rip current deaths. Last summer's deadly turn prompted several towns to start exploring whether to add life guards or, at the very least, more rescue patrols.

"It comes down to money a lot of times," said Gill. "A lot of these towns don't have the money. At least they think they don't have the money to put forward to make these lifeguard services a reality." 

Cape Hatteras National Seashore is one of few beaches that actually has lifeguards, but not for long. Federal budgets cuts could mean those lifeguards will go away.

If you have kids and are making summer travel plans, the Ridpaths want you to consider only going to beaches with lifeguards. They believe an on-duty lifeguard would have made all the difference to their son Matt's life.

"We're not out to hurt anybody. We want to try to save the next family from having to go through what we have," said Al Ridpath. The Ridpaths hope Matt's death opens eyes so other families will know the dangers they face at unguarded beaches.

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