‘I was panicking’: Louisville woman recalls being caught in rip current

”I just went in the water not thinking about anything,” she recalled. “There were so many people in the water that day.”
Published: Jun. 2, 2023 at 1:50 PM EDT
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - This is the time of year when many families head to the beach.

But a warning, watch out for rip currents. It’s something a Louisville woman wants everyone to remember.

Rip Currents are unpredictable and dangerous. The powerful force can pull a person away from shore, moving up to eight feet per second.

It’s something Melanie Heim from Louisville wasn’t even thinking about when she was on spring break with her family in Watercolor, just east of Pensacola, Florida.

”I just went in the water not thinking about anything,” Heim recalled. “There were so many people in the water that day.”

She says that day, April 6, was extremely hot.

“There was a red flag, but there were so many people in the water,” Heim said. “I just went to my knees and then the bottom just dropped out and it just took me.”

She said it all happened so fast.

“I was panicking,” she said. “And I was like, Melanie, if you don’t pull it together, you are going to die.”

She said she tried to swim parallel to the shore but wasn’t strong enough. So, she started floating on her back.

”I closed my eyes,” she said. “The waves just kept pounding me down. I would come back up for air and it would pound me down again and I would come back for air. I didn’t know how much longer I could do it, I really didn’t.”

That’s when Brandon Connellan, South Walton Fire District’s lifeguard of 2022, swam to her with a flotation device.

”He really did save my life,” she said. “He threw me this buoy and I missed because of the waves. He threw it again, and I grabbed it.”

”It was a matter of almost seconds of me showing up, I was able to get to her,” Connellan said. “You could see that look of fear and she had almost given up.”

That day alone, lifeguards in that area rescued more than 50 people from rip currents.

”When we have a red flag, we say knee-deep is too deep,” Connellan said.

Heim said she was so lucky. She plans to thank him in person when they’re back in Florida this summer.

”I will get in the water,” she said. “But now I know to look at the flags. I know to look for lifeguards.”

The South Walton Fire District said the chance of drowning when swimming near a lifeguard is greatly reduced.

People are still urged to use caution if there is a yellow flag.

If stuck in a rip current, Connellan said to swim with it until you are out of it then move back toward shore at an angle away from the rush of water.