Vacationing New York firefighter saves three girls from rip current off NC Outer Banks

Vacationing New York firefighter saves three girls from rip current off NC Outer Banks
Scene of the water rescue off Emerald Isle on Thursday. Three girls were struggling against a rip current when a New York state firefighter stepped in and saved them (Oswego Fire Department)

EMERALD ISLE, NC (Mark Price/Charlotte Observer) - A vacationing New York state firefighter is being credited with saving three girls caught in a deadly rip current off North Carolina's Emerald Isle.

The rescue happened Thursday afternoon, just two days after a 4-year-old New Hampshire boy was pulled into the ocean by a swift wave and drowned off the Outer Banks. His body remained missing early Friday.

Firefighter Sean O'Gorman with the Oswego Fire Department was vacationing with his family at Emerald Isle Thursday when he noticed two young girls on Boogie Boards struggling to get back to shore. At one point, a third girl went to try and help the girls get back, and then she, too, became stuck, O'Gorman said.

The girls' mother called 911, but O'Gorman told the Charlotte Observer he decided not to wait.

"We were sitting, watching the girls playing in the water about 75 yards out, and I noticed they stopped trying to get back to the shore, and I think they were caught in a rip current. Then we heard someone yell, 'Help'," O'Gorman told the Charlotte Observer.

"I ran to the mother and asked her if they had a plan. Her husband was going to get a surfboard ... but I didn't know how to use it. I decided to swim out, which was easy. Getting back was a struggle, with me trying to tow them all in. They were hooked onto my feet."

O'Gorman, 50, completed his swift water rescue training just two weeks ago, and used a "forceful crawl" technique to reach the girls, who he says were in their early teens.

"The girls did not panic," O'Gorman said. "They were calm. And by the time we got to shore, the Emerald Isle Fire Department and rescue people were there. Their parents thanked me and everything, but I believe Emerald Isle's Fire Department would have gotten to them if I hadn't gone out."

North Carolina is one of the most dangerous states for rip currents, which are powerful, narrow channels of fast-moving water that can move at speeds of up to eight feet per second. Between 1996 and 2016, 54 beachgoers were killed in rip currents in the state – the second-most in the nation, trailing only Florida, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Oswego is a city in northwest New York, on the banks of Lake Ontario. O'Gorman joined the Oswego Fire Department in 2000, officials said.

O'Gorman rescued the girls two days after a 4-year-old boy vacationing with his family in NC was pulled out to sea at Kitty Hawk, about three hours north of Emerald Isle. The boy was walking with his mother in shallow waters on a beach when a came crashing onto shore, knocking both to their feet, reported The Washington Post.

The boy was ripped from his mother's grip and carried out to sea, the Post reported. He hasn't been seen since, reported Kitty Hawk police. The family is reportedly from Manchester, New Hampshire, according to TV station WMUR.