‘Pure ter­ror’

Mother and son re­count hor­ror of be­ing in the grip of rip cur­rent

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - FRONT PAGE - BY JIM DAY

One minute, Beth John­ston was en­joy­ing “a per­fect mo­ment’’ swim­ming with her son just off a north shore beach in Sav­age Har­bour.

“Then within a minute,’’ says John­ston, “it was pure ter­ror.’’

The pair had been splash­ing in the waves Satur­day around 8 p.m., snap­ping pho­tos with a sports un­der­wa­ter cam­era.

Af­ter just a hand­ful of min­utes in the wa­ter, how­ever, John­ston’s 12-year-old son, Char­lie Ross, who had been stand­ing on a sand bar, noted he could no longer touch bot­tom.

John­ston re­al­ized she and her son had been pulled out “far enough that the shore looked re­ally far away.’’

Mom and son were caught in a rip cur­rent. Sud­denly the pair was in peril.

Re­turn­ing to shore ap­peared a mighty, even uncertain, task.

To John­ston, Char­lie looked ter­ri­fied.

She re­calls her boy say­ing, “Mommy, I’m so tired. I can’t swim.”

John­ston told her son to keep pushing. He found the re­solve. And he swam for his life. “I don’t know how he did it, but some­how the kid swam to shore…I’m re­ally proud of him,’’ says John­ston.

“He re­ally han­dled him­self well. If he had lost his cool, it would have been an­other sit­u­a­tion.’’

On Monday, a well-spo­ken Char­lie con­veyed to The Guardian his hor­ror of be­ing caught in a rip cur­rent far from shore.

“It was fright­en­ing, and I did feel like I was never go­ing to make it back to shore…it was kind of an aw­ful feel­ing,’’ he

says.

“The next day I felt like I ran a marathon…it was pretty tir­ing.’’

Most un­set­tling for the boy was watch­ing his mother strug­gling in the wa­ter once he had safely reached shore.

“I thought she was not go­ing to come back to shore,’’ he says.

“I was think­ing, you know how peo­ple are in the obituaries? I thought, ‘oh no, I am go­ing to see her in the obituaries to­mor­row.’ ’’

John­ston says the strug­gle to re­turn to shore – roughly 20 min­utes for Char­lie and an­other 10 min­utes or so for her – felt like an eter­nity.

For John­ston, 45, a writer and pho­tog­ra­pher for the prov­ince, the fact that she is a strong swim­mer who took to the wa­ter early in life did not seem for a dis­turb­ing pe­riod of time to be enough to help es­cape her plight.

John­ston’s fa­tigue had be­come sim­ply over­whelm­ing. She was be­gin­ning to feel she was no match for the un­re­lent­ing cur­rent.

Yet, like her son, she some­how found her way back to the shore.

“I don’t know what hap­pened or how I got out of that cur­rent,’’ she says.

The re­union on the beach, need­less to say, was emo­tional.

“He was so up­set and cry­ing,’’ says John­ston of her son.

“I just hugged him, and we were both shak­ing. I just said, ‘we’re OK, we’re OK. I’m sorry, that was so scary.’ ’’

John­ston’s heart goes out to the 52-year-old New Brunswick man who drowned in strong cur­rents and rough waves in the waters off St. Mar­garets Satur­day af­ter­noon.

“I know where his heart and mind was be­cause I was ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the same ter­ror,’’ she says.

“That’s how eas­ily things can go wrong. You re­al­ize how frag­ile you are.’’

SUB­MIT­TED PHOTO

Beth John­ston and her son, Char­lie Ross, are shown on the beach in Sav­age Har­bour Monday where they had the fright of their lives Satur­day evening af­ter get­ting caught in a rip cur­rent.

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