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Father and son survive Florida rip current

August 5, 2018

CLEARWATER, Fla. (AP) — Robert Kantor thought he was going to die.

Then he quickly snapped back to reality. He had to fight for his life — and his son’s.

Kantor, 45, and his 15-year-old son, Frank, were stuck in a rip current at the beach. The two were enjoying an evening swim on the evening of July 23 when they were swept up by a strong current and carried away from shore.

So began a 30-minute ordeal as father and son battled the “silent killer,” as Clearwater Fire & Rescue Assistant Fire Chief Scott Magness put it.

“You can’t just tell by the waves,” Magness said, that there’s a dangerous rip current underwater.

Here’s how father and son survived:

Lifeguards are only on duty until 7 p.m. there, and father and son found themselves in trouble soon afterward. They desperately tried to signal for help to Kantor’s wife Gabriela, who was standing on the beach.

They didn’t know if she saw them.

As the waves crashed against their bodies, they came up with a plan to try to escape the rip current, relying heavily on the son. The father is usually a strong swimmer, but was recovering from shoulder surgery six weeks before.

They decided the 15-year-old would swim parallel to the shoreline to escape the rip. The father would grab his son’s legs and be carried along.

It didn’t work. Robert Kantor kept slipping away. He tried to keep it together.

“I thought about staying calm,” the father said. “I meditate and I was able to think clearly and to communicate with my son and come up with a plan and not focus on the fear.”

They came up with a back-up plan. The son got behind his father and kicked as hard as he could while the father swam parallel to the beach. It worked. The two started to feel relief from the current.

Robert Kantor said his son didn’t tire. He treaded water and swam with ease, as if he was just playing around.

But the father? His arms felt like cement blocks as his body filled with exhaustion.

Meanwhile on shore, efforts were underway to rescue them.

The wife had called 911 and told rescuers where father and son were in the water.

Clearwater Fire & Rescue arrived at the beach, near the 700 block of El Dorado Avenue. Firefighter Scott McGrail then swam 25 yards out and rescued Robert Kantor with a paddle board.

Lt. Matt Burmood said the father was visibly tired and pale. The 911 call was critical to a successful water rescue. The more information first-responders get, Magness said, the better prepared they’ll be.

“It’s very different from a house fire because there are so many variables to water rescues,” he said. “We have to come up with a plan as we go so the caller needs to provide us with as much information as possible.”

What father and son did to survive the rip current also conformed with the advice from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: Swimmers caught in a rip current should let themselves float and swim parallel to the shore to escape.

What those who find themselves trapped in a rip current should not do is try to swim back to shore against the current — that will just tire them out, and increase their risk of drowning.

But the biggest key to surviving a rip current, Lt. Kevin Bowler said, is to stay calm. He said father and son “absolutely did the right things.”

The lieutenant noted that he just had shoulder surgery himself. He said he couldn’t imagine being stuck in a rip current with limited mobility.

That week, the department helped three other people trapped in rip currents at Clearwater Beach and one at Sand Key Park.

The uptick in rip currents is being caused by upper level troughs, said National Weather Service meteorologist Tony Hurt.

The trough has lingered in the air for such a long time, he said, that it created wind blowing perpendicular to the beach, creating the rip currents that then flow back out to the open water.

The weather service has had a rip current warning in effect since that July 23 day and expects the currents to remain in force until today.

Robert Kantor, of Clearwater, said his experience showed him that he can make a difference by educating more people about the dangers of rip currents.

“Everybody knows how to save the sea turtles ...” he said, “but they don’t know anything about rips.

“If a local guy who’s lived here for 25 years, competes in triathlons and is a strong swimmer can get stuck in them, anyone can get stuck in one.”

And the father hates to think about what would’ve happened if his son hadn’t been out there to help him.

“It’s funny. The parent is supposed to be worried about their kid, especially in a dangerous situation, but roles were almost reversed,” he said. “Every time I looked over at him, I just saw the concern in his eyes for me.”

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Information from: Tampa Bay Times (St. Petersburg, Fla.), http://www.tampabay.com.

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