Witness: ‘She was talking and coherent the entire time, despite having this umbrella sticking out of her’

Witness: ‘She was talking and coherent the entire time, despite having this umbrella sticking out of her’
File photo by Chris Parypa

OCEAN CITY — A Pennsylvania woman impaled by a flying umbrella on the beach at 54th Street on Sunday is on the mend and is recovering well, but the incident serves as a reminder for beach safety as similar incidents resulted in more unfortunate outcomes.

Around 3:11 p.m. on Sunday, Ocean City first-responders were dispatched to the beach at 54th Street after a gust of wind dislodged an unattended rental umbrella and sent it tumbling down the beach where it impaled an unidentified 46-year-old woman from Pennsylvania. The point of the wood-shaft umbrella hit the victim, who was sitting in a beach chair, and pierced her skin in the upper left chest below the collarbone.

Ocean City Beach Patrol Surf Rescue Technicians (SRTs) quickly responded and, with the help of bystanders, secured the blowing umbrella while the first SRT on the scene began rendering aid and keeping the victim calm.

Beachgoer Laura Lathroum and her family were set up close to the victim on the beach that day. She said they didn’t witness it first-hand but were close to the aftermath and watched the response.

“We were about 20 feet away from her,” she said. “We saw the lifeguard jump down and naturally like everybody else we looked to see if somebody was in trouble in the water. Then, we saw the lifeguard running back in our direction and we realized it was something different.”

Lathroum said the beach patrol was on the scene quickly and helped stabilize the victim and secure the umbrella, which was still open and blowing on the gusty afternoon.

“Before we realized what had happened, the lifeguards and other people on the beach were holding the umbrella to stabilize because it was sticking out of her chest,” she said. “She was talking and coherent the entire time, despite having this umbrella sticking out of her. About five minutes later, the paramedics arrived and they literally cut the shaft of the umbrella with a chainsaw.”

Ocean City Fire Department and EMS personnel arrived quickly and took over first-aid measures. Ocean City Fire Department personnel cut the umbrella’s wooden pole to facilitate taking the victim from the beach to awaiting paramedics. Lathroum said out of an abundance of caution, given the sensitive area of the victim’s injury, EMS personnel took her off the beach still in the beach chair.

“The whole incident from the time she was struck until the time she was taken away by paramedics was about a half an hour,” she said. “They had a stretcher, but they ended up taking her out right in her beach chair.”

The victim was transported from the beach by EMS and was transported to a designated medevac at 32nd Street via ambulance. She was transferred to the Maryland State Police medevac helicopter and taken to Peninsula Regional Medical Center in Salisbury with injuries initially believed to be not life-threatening.

By Tuesday, it was learned the victim was stable and on the mend and is expected to make a complete recovery. Ocean City Beach Patrol Captain Butch Arbin said the victim felt blessed the accident was not more serious and was thankful to the first-responders who came to her aid.

Back on the beach, Lathroum said the incident had a sobering affect on an otherwise pleasant, albeit windy Sunday afternoon in late July.

“The poor girl working the beach stand was so visibly upset,” she said. “We all felt so bad for her because it was really windy, and it was just an accident. It definitely left a somber feeling on the beach for the rest of the afternoon.”

Sunday’s incident served as a reminder of the dangers of flying umbrellas on the beach, causing the beach patrol to urge residents, visitors, and in this case, beach stand operators to carefully monitor the conditions, secure umbrellas safely in the sand or leave them down altogether when the conditions merit that.

“Incidents like this are rare in Ocean City, but they a frightening reminder of how dangerous an unsecured umbrella can be,” said Arbin. “To prevent incidents like this, citizens are encouraged to ensure that the bottom of the umbrella pole is 18 to 24 inches below the surface of the sand and tilt the umbrella into the wind. If it is a windy day, leave the umbrella at home.”

While Sunday’s incident was somewhat rare in Ocean City, similar accidents involving flying umbrellas have occurred in the past locally and around the region with often tragic or near-tragic consequences. In June 2016, a 56-year-old woman was struck in the chest by an umbrella in Virginia Beach and went into cardiac arrest before later succumbing at an area hospital.

Some are worse than others, including an incident in Ocean City in July 2010 when a woman had her thigh impaled by a flying umbrella and the beach patrol and EMS had to literally saw the shaft off leaving around a 12-inch portion in her leg before transporting her to the hospital. That case had a happy ending as the victim survived the injury that nearly severed her femoral artery, but others, including the woman in Virginia Beach, are not so lucky.

While Sunday’s incident was certainly dramatic, the OCBP responds to flying umbrella incidents nearly every day throughout the summer to varying degrees. With hundreds of thousands of beachgoers and thousands of umbrellas, the incidents are largely inevitable, but also preventable. In most cases, it is often not the person who owns or rents the umbrella, but rather an unsuspecting person nearby that gets hit.

In Sunday’s example, the beach umbrella belonged to a rental company and was unattended at the time. The accidents can often be prevented and are typically caused by an umbrella that was not properly set in the sand. There are some common-sense beach umbrella installation techniques that will make a day at the beach safer for everybody.

When setting the umbrella, simply jabbing it into the sand is not enough. Instead, jab the sharpened end of the pole into the sand and rock the entire umbrella back and forth until 18 to 24 inches of the pole are firmly into the beach. Another flawed technique is attempting to screw the umbrella pole into the sand.

Another tip is to make sure the umbrella is tilted into the wind. That will prevent a gust from getting under the umbrella and lifting it suddenly. Again, common sense should prevail in most cases. If it is an unusually windy day, take the umbrella down and don’t leave it unattended. If one goes in for lunch, or into the ocean for a swim or down the beach for a walk, take the umbrella down and put it back up upon returning.

The beach patrol will often warn beachgoers of high wind conditions, just as they issue warning about rip currents or other potential hazards. It is also important to remember to set umbrellas behind the lifeguard stands. Umbrellas set east of the imaginary line between lifeguard stands can impede the sight lines for the beach patrol and its ability to survey the water. If setting an umbrella before the lifeguards come on duty, always remember to set them a few yards behind the high tide line.

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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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.