WAKE FOREST, N.C. (WNCN) — North Carolina’s eased restrictions combined with summer and Memorial Day weekend around the corner mean more people hitting the beach, unaware of the risks in the water.
Risks that the Mericals of Wake Forest will never forget after receiving a call that changed their lives forever.
“I said, ‘Oh my god!’ All I could think was, ‘Is she breathing? Is she breathing?’” said mother Suzi Merical.
Their daughter Paige was only 17 years old when she was rescued after being overtaken by a rip current at Emerald Isle on April 19, 2019. She died over a week later. Her friend Ian Lewis, 18, was also caught in the rip current and drowned. His body was recovered days later.
“She was my best friend. It was really tough losing my best buddy,” said John Merical, Paige’s father.
Her parents started a campaign called “Don’t Fight the Rip” to educate swimmers on what to do if ever caught in a rip current.
The campaign shares tips like always swim with a flotation device, swim near a lifeguard or other people, and don’t fight but float if you encounter a rip current.
Scientists are also making safety strides in this area by teaming up with lifeguards to develop a computer model that predicts rip currents days in advance. The Mericals are hopeful it will prevent other families from getting the same call they did.
“So many things we’ll never get to do because we didn’t know how to tell her how to survive in a rip current. I couldn’t save my daughter but I want to be able to save your daughter,” said Suzi Merical.
They’re also hoping to see a curriculum about rip currents taught in school.