OCEAN ISLE, N.C. - A man nearly drowned at Ocean Isle before a Raleigh dad and his teenage son rescued him.
Kevin and Mason Hickey were vacationing with two dozen of their extended family members. They were out on the beach when they saw a 12-year-old girl yelling for help.
The girl had been riding waves with her 74-year-old grandfather, Wayne Kelley, when things took a turn for the worst.
"We went under like two waves at once and I came up and there was no bottom," Kelley told ABC11 on Thursday by FaceTime from his home near Roanoke, Virginia. "And so I said, 'Marlie we need to start to get back to land.' And all of a sudden, I tried and I still couldn't touch the bottom. So I just gave Marlie a push and said, 'Go back, Marlie. Just go back.'"
Kelley told his granddaughter to go get help as the rip current started pulling him further away. Kelley said he started to panic and forgot to swim parallel to shore to get out of the rip current.
"The more (I) fought it, the more I would go underwater and take a drink of the water," Kelley said.
Just when he thought he was going to go under for the last time, he saw Hickey just feet away to save him.
Hickey competes in Ironman triathlons which include long-distance running and biking, and a 2.4 mile-swim.
"Of all places for me to go to get into trouble it was directly in front of Kevin and his family. And he is a triathlon swimmer," Kelley said, noting how lucky he was.
When Hickey’s son saw his dad jump in, he grabbed his boogie board and followed right behind him to help the 74-year-old man.
Hickey recalled the moment with his son and said, "to have my 15-year-old son be there right after me and to help me and assist me, it was, it was everything a dad could want to see your son really become a man in a matter of seconds. The pride that I felt, that his mom felt, that all of our family felt for him was just immense."
Hickey’s son Mason said he could tell Kelley was really tired and said, “We plopped him on the boogie board and grabbed two ends and then we went with the current. Then we got to where we could touch, and he had no strength whatsoever. So, we had to carry him in."
Once all three were back on the shore, Marlie hugged her grandfather and strangers congratulated Hickey and his son for saving Kelley.
"I'm not sure I could have even lasted another minute. I was, I was exhausted,” Kelley said. “And I think they were definitely the difference in me living and drowning."
Hickey also said that Kelley and his granddaughter were heroes because they couldn’t have saved him without their efforts and calling for help.
In the end, the two families became friends and are making plans for a vacation at Ocean Isle next year.
"I wasn't expecting anything to come from this except just trying to help somebody and I got so much more. I got to see my son become a hero and made new friends, new family," said Hickey.
This year already, seven people have drowned on the North Carolina coast out of the 28-total nationwide coastal drownings.
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