Scouters in Action: They saved the drowning man from the rip current!

From left to right: Dean Cotroneo, Jason Morehouse and Robert Boquist, of Troop 71 in Forest Grove, Pennsylvania

The Scouts from Troop 71 in Forest Grove, Pennsylvania, were enjoying a nice swim on a Delaware beach last summer when a crisis suddenly developed. Far out from shore, a man — not part of the troop — was struggling to keep his head above the surface of the water.

The adult leaders, all strong swimmers with previous knowledge of the area, and all of them properly trained in the BSA’s Safe Swim Defense and BSA Swimming & Water Rescue, then made a series of decisions that likely saved the man’s life.

Here is their story, in their own words.

Richard Lotito, 43, Scoutmaster, Troop 71

Troop 71 was on a camping trip to Cape Henlopen State Park in Delaware. We arrived on Friday and set up camp. The Scouts cooked dinner and then turned in for the evening. On Saturday, we started the schedule of events for the trip, which included a bike tour of the historic areas of the cape, a walk to the World War II lookout towers and then a trip to the beach to allow the Scouts to go for a swim. We always follow Safe Swim guidelines — all our Scouts were swim-tested and approved as swimmers. We were in possession of throw bags, PFDs, life vests and a rescue tube. We implemented the buddy system and had seven adult leaders assigned as lookouts or lifeguards for the Scouts that were swimming in the safe swim area.

Robert Boquist, 55, Eagle Scout, Troop 71 assistant Scoutmaster

I was acting as lookout. As I had training as a BSA Aquatics Instructor and am a certified lifeguard with the American Red Cross, I had been coordinating all of our lifeguard actions. As a Wilderness First Aid instructor, I was also our designated first-aid resource in our emergency action plan.

Jason Morehouse, 46, Eagle Scout, Troop 71 committee member

After a period of approximately 90 minutes, the adults got the Scouts out of the water because there seemed to be a strengthening current that made it unsafe to continue swimming beyond the break. Simultaneously, the break at the shore was increasing in strength and was challenging for even some of the stronger Scouts to maintain safe positions.

Herring Point Beach is a popular swimming spot within Cape Henlopen State Park

Rich Lotito

A beach visitor came up to us to advise that someone was struggling to swim ashore by the rock jetty. After hearing this we then were able to audibly hear the yells of “help” coming from that area and visually confirm the victim’s location.

Dean Cotroneo, 49, assistant Scoutmaster

I noticed a woman waving her hands in the air to get our attention. She didn’t speak English, so I couldn’t make out what she was saying. She kept pointing to the ocean frantically. I proceeded to run down the beach where onlookers were gathered and saw a distressed swimmer flailing his arms and screaming “help.”

Rob Boquist

I scanned the surf zone but could not see anyone in distress. I asked them to show me where the person was, and they said he was “way out.” I scanned past the surf zone and saw someone in the water waving his arms. He appeared to be about 75 yards offshore. As I looked at the waves and conditions, I could see the swimmer was caught in a rip current. He was not actively swimming at the time; he was vertical in the water and waving his arms, appearing to be in distress.

Dean Cotroneo

Nobody had come to the victim’s aid, nor were there any lifeguards at the beach, so instinctively I ran into the water and began swimming toward him.

Jason Morehouse

I turned and grabbed a rescue tube and ran adjacent to shore to minimize the distance of swimming.

Rob Boquist

I asked if anyone had called 911, and other bystanders said “yes, we called 911.” I ran back to our troop gear and got another rescue tube to assist with the rescue. When I passed by the onlookers who had alerted us, I asked one of them to help direct EMS when they got here. As I looked out again to find the victim, I saw Dean swimming out diagonally to him. To get to the victim quickly, I decided to run up the beach and enter the rip current where it was closest to shore. As I was swimming out, and about halfway to the victim, I saw Dean off to my right. He did not have any flotation support with him. I stopped for a second and yelled to get his attention.

Dean Cotroneo

I got about 75-100 yards in the ocean and realized I didn’t have a flotation device. When I turned around and saw that Jason, who had a rescue tube, was behind me, I motioned for Jason to go ahead. Soon after, Robert screamed, “Dean do you have a float?” I screamed “no.” He motioned me to get back to shore. Once I knew Jason could get to the victim first, I began to make my way back to shore.

Jason Morehouse

I swam approximately 75 yards to reach the person. As I approached, it was clear that the person was an adult male. He was screaming for help, and he was sometimes falling below the level of the water. He was gasping for air and seemed only moments from going under when I reached him. As I approached, I told him that I was there to help and that I had a rescue tube I was going to give him. I stabilized the swimmer and began swimming with him in an assisted carry/swim position. Robert joined me soon after.

Rob Boquist

I asked the victim what his name was, and he said “George.” With that, l knew he was conscious, responsive and breathing. He was obviously exhausted. He appeared to be in his early 20s. I looked around to see our situation. We were more than a football field away from the shore and had moved a little north of where I entered the water. I told Jason we should try to swim north parallel to the shore and get out of the rip current. It only took about 30 seconds of towing the victim and tubes until I could see we were not going farther out from shore.

Jason Morehouse

We were unable to swim back to the original position on the shore. The current seemed to be fighting our progress.

Rob Boquist

The current was now pushing us toward the northern rock jetty. This created a hazardous situation. If we tried to get to shore, and the current pushed us into the rock jetty, all three of us could be badly injured on the rocks. Jason and I stopped again and talked about our situation. I looked north to the other side of the rock jetty and saw some vigorous wave action, and some surfers in the waves. I knew this was actually one of the safer areas to go, to make sure we did not re-enter a rip current, and I told Jason that’s where we should go. He agreed, and we began towing George toward the north side of the jetty. As we got closer to the surf zone, we started to get pounded by breaking waves. We kept letting George know when a wave was coming so he could hold his breath as the wave went over the top of us.

Dean Cotroneo

While I was swimming back to shore, I yelled at a surfer in the water to go help Jason and Robert with his board. He paddled over to the three of them.

Jason Morehouse

As we approached the shore, a surfer came to us and offered help. We were able to use the board as a more stable device to help the victim over the intense break.

Rob Boquist

The surfer swam over to us and let us use his board to help get George get a little higher out of the water. When we could stand, we pushed the surfboard away, and Jason and I supported George on either side to help him out of the water. He could barely move his legs from exhaustion.

Graphic courtesy of Rob Boquist

Dean Cotroneo

The victim was so weak, Jason and Rob had to carry him to shore over each of their shoulders to the shore.

Rich Lotito

He proceeded to throw up and advised that he did swallow a good amount of seawater. His friends were around him to comfort him, and they advised that the ocean was very rough and that their friend got caught in a riptide, they went out further than they should have, and that this particular person was not a strong swimmer and should not have gone out that far. There was an agreement that if it had not been for both Jason and Rob’s actions, this swimmer would have been a drowning victim.

Rob Boquist

He said he swallowed a lot of seawater and was feeling sick because of that. After vomiting up the seawater, he said he felt a bit better. I asked him if he was having any trouble breathing, and he said no. His breathing was deep and strong, not labored.

Jason Morehouse

Upon shore, the victim was reunited with his peers. We stayed to help them get the victim through possible shock, inhaled water and dehydration.

Rob Boquist

George had a few friends who were around us now, but there were no rescue personnel on the beach. I asked his friends to call 911 again. I explained to George and his friends that if he had inhaled any water, there could be delayed complications with swelling of his lung tissues.

Rich Lotito

Had Troop 71 not been there or did not act when they did, this young man would have drowned for sure as there were a lot of bystanders on the beach and they just did not know what to do.

Dean Cotroneo

Onlookers were commenting to us, “Thank God the lifeguards were here.” And Rob said, “We aren’t park lifeguards — we are Scouts!”


Robert Boquist and Jason Morehouse each received Heroism Awards for their actions that day. Dean Cotroneo received a Certificate of Merit.


Washington Crossing Council commissioner Bill Cameron (far right) recognized the Scouters at a recent Troop 71 court of honor. Photo courtesy of Nate McHugh, Troop 71 Order of the Arrow Unit Representative

 


About Aaron Derr 468 Articles
Aaron Derr is the senior editor of Scout Life and Scouting magazines, and also a former Cubmaster and Scouts BSA volunteer.