Eight-year-old boy rescued after drifting out to sea on inflatable unicorn
CTVNews.ca's Brooklyn Neustaeter, with a report from CTV's Los Angeles Bureau Chief Tom Walters
Published Monday, June 17, 2019 6:51AM EDT
What was supposed to be a fun day at the beach in North Carolina turned into a scary situation for an eight-year-old boy who was swept out to sea on an inflatable pool toy.
"I was really scared and thinking like I might die and all that stuff," said Declan O'Connor in an interview with ABC News.
Strong winds swept O'Connor out into the Atlantic Ocean earlier this month while he was playing on a large unicorn pool toy.
His father jumped in the water to save O'Connor, but the float was moving faster than he could swim.
His mother called 911 and was audibly shaken on the call with dispatchers.
"My son is floating out in the middle of the ocean on a floaty thing," said Jillian O'Connor. "He doesn't have a life jacket on. He doesn't really know how to swim."
Volunteers from the Oak Island Water Rescue team were able to rescue O'Connor and safely bring him back to shore.
"It was a lot of tears, exhalation, being grateful and thankful for those rescuers," said Jillian.
The Oak Island Water Rescue team took to Facebook, using the incident as a seasonal teaching moment to share safety tips on using inflatables in open water.
"We all know floats have the potential to be dangerous, whether in the pool or ocean…" the group wrote in the post. "Certain things such as a lifejacket, close adult supervision and water survival skills help reduce the danger of water in general."
A similar situation recently happened in British waters where two men in an inflatable boat drifted over two kilometres into the North Sea.
The men were without lifejackets and only had plastic paddles to propel themselves.
The incident came just days after two five-year-old girls had to be rescued when they were swept offshore in an inflatable swan.
The situations have prompted a public warning from Britain's Royal National Lifeboat Institution which says that "inflatables are one of the most common reasons our crews and lifeguards get called into action."
The Oak Island Water Rescue team says the inflatables problem is getting worse due to the growing number and availability of enormous and relatively inexpensive floats for sale.
"These floats are very popular [but] once they get in the water and out of your reach, then the sky is the limit on how far they're going to go," said Oak Island Water Rescue Chief Tony Young.
O'Connor said he has learned an important lesson from the incident and is warning other young swimmers about his mistake.
"Now I know never go out on a float ever again in the ocean," he said.