Rip currents along North Carolina beaches are now blamed for three drownings that happened Wednesday.
Two of those victims are from the Charlotte area. Mitchell McLean, 54, died trying to rescue a woman in the surf off Sunset Beach. He was chief judge for a district that covers Ashe and Wilkes counties.
The woman he was trying to save, 55-year-old Mary Ann Galway of Waxhaw, later died at a Wilmington hospital.
Her husband, Edward John Galway III, 59, has was treated and released from the hospital.
The three were caught in a rip current off Sunset Beach on Wednesday afternoon.
About four hours earlier, just a few miles away at Ocean Isle Beach, there was another drowning.
William Nicolaro, 72, of Palm Harbor, Fla., drowned after he and his son got caught in a rip current. The victim's son made it out of the rough water.
The National Weather Service issued a warning for a severe rip current threat that continued through at least Thursday afternoon, Sunset Beach police Chief Lisa Massey said. Rip currents are strong channels of water that are difficult for the untrained eye to see. Panicked swimmers often drown from exhaustion as they try to fight the current.
When conditions are favorable for rip currents, individuals should swim at beaches with lifeguards, said Brad Reinhart, NWS meteorologist in Wilmington.
If caught in a rip current, people should let the water carry them out to sea while trying to swim parallel to shore, as the currents are usually narrow and funnel through breaks in sandbars.
"Rip currents are fairly common at our beaches," Reinhart said. "Even on days when we have a low risk of rip currents you can see individual ones that might be powerful enough to pull a child or someone that's not a strong swimmer. Any swimmer should be aware of the threat and know how to effectively escape it."