Local Rescues Texas Family Caught In Rip Current In Nantucket

Local Rescues Texas Family Caught In Rip Current In Nantucket
Local Rescues

OCEAN CITY — An Ocean City local humbly donned the mantle of hero last week when he rescued a family of three caught in a rip current on a beach in Nantucket.

Ocean City local Tommy Vach was on vacation in Nantucket last week when the lifetime surfer was quickly called into duty. The Johns family, including father Derrick, mom Jennifer and 16-year-old Erynn, from Austin, Texas, were in the ocean at Nobadeer Beach on Nantucket last Tuesday when they suddenly found themselves caught in a dangerous rip current. Vach said this week it was somewhat foggy last Tuesday on the beach and he heard what he thought at first was the normal screams of people playing in the water until he realized something far more serious was going on.

“I could hear people playing with the normal noise and screams, but I realized it was people calling for help,” he said on Monday now back in his office in Ocean Pines. “I went into the ocean and found the mom screaming for help for her daughter. I was able to pull the daughter in safely and went back out to get her parents.”

Vach said he found the mother and quickly got her in safely, but the father, Derrick Johns, was still out there struggling against the rip current.

“The person in the most trouble was the dad,” he said. “He had been trying to help his daughter and wife while fighting against the current and he was completely exhausted. I dragged him up on the beach and turned him over to get him breathing again. By then, the lifeguards and emergency services had responded and they told me he was probably about 20 seconds away from drowning.”

The three Johns family members were whisked away by ambulance to an area hospital and Vach thought nothing more of it until he learned he was the mysterious man in the orange trunks. Vach said he was later in a hotel room with friends when the story broke on the local TV news. Erynn Johns had a Go Pro camera on a selfie stick while she was playing in the ocean with her family and recorded much of the incident.

“I really didn’t think anything of it,” he said. “We were watching the news and they were reporting about the rescue. Erynn captured a lot of the incident on her Go Pro and they were looking for the ‘mysterious man in the orange trunks’ that came to their aid. I saw it and went to the Nantucket police and they were able to reconnect me with the family.”

Vach said he met with Derrick, Jennifer and Erynn Johns and they were clearly thankful that he interceded for them.

“They are such a nice family,” he said. “Derrick is an ex-Marine and is very fit and is an excellent swimmer. Erynn is going to West Point and is a soccer player. They are all very fit and it just goes to show it doesn’t matter how strong a swimmer one is, the ocean is always in charge.”

Vach, an Ocean City native who spent 20 years in California is a surfer and strong swimmer in his own right, said he has made countless rescues over the years while growing up on the beach and has seen more than his fair share of people caught in dangerous rip currents.

“The message here is, don’t panic and as odd as it sounds, let the rip current take you for a little bit and then swim parallel to the beach once you get outside of it,” he said. “Your first instinct is to swim back into it because that’s the way you came in, but that’s when people, even the best swimmers, get into trouble.”

Vach is a board member for the Ocean City Surf Club, whose message among other things is respect for the ocean and the beach environment.

“One of the things we always hammer home when we’re teaching the youth about the ocean is it is something to respect,” he said. “Rip currents are very real and very dangerous and we can’t emphasize enough the importance of knowing how to handle them no matter how strong a swimmer one is.”

Rip currents are often prevalent in the ocean and the town of Ocean City and its Beach Patrol hammer home the message about their dangers on a daily basis. Ocean City Beach Patrol lifeguards hold daily seminars on the beach each morning, educating beachgoers about the particular dangers on that given day and the town includes information about the dangers of rip currents in its public outreach messages, second only perhaps to the pedestrian safety messages.

Nonetheless, there are thousands of rescues from rip currents throughout the summer and in many years, more than a few tragedies. Last summer was perhaps the worst in recent memory with at three drownings in the ocean attributed to rip currents. Thus far this summer, it has been fairly quiet on the rip current front, knock on wood, suggesting the currents haven’t been as prevalent or the public awareness blitz is hitting home. In either case, it is important to remember that rip currents can appear on even the calmest of days in the ocean and the message about swimming out of them and parallel to the beach cannot be emphasized enough.

About The Author: Shawn Soper

Alternative Text

Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.