Citizens rescue struggling swimmer

Little Rock District Public Affairs
Published July 17, 2013
Moonshine Beach Recreation Area is a very popular sandy swimming beach along the shores of Table Rock Lake.

Moonshine Beach Recreation Area is a very popular sandy swimming beach along the shores of Table Rock Lake.

Close call a lesson in water safety

Drowning kills 10 people every day in the United States and half of all drownings occur in natural water settings such as lakes or rivers. But, what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics don’t reveal is the numerous “near misses.”

One such close call happened this summer at Table Rock Lake’s Moonshine Beach near Branson, Mo., when a young 17-year-old girl and her friends were enjoying a day of leisure at the beach.

The teenager was not a good swimmer and not wearing a life jacket, but she chose to swim out to the bouy line marking the outer limits of the designated swimming area. As she attempted to return to shore she began to struggle. She panicked, bobbed under water, and then grabbed at two of her friends swimming nearby.

Several people took notice, including Adrien Skaggs, an 18-year-old from Hollister, Mo., who was visiting relatives in the area and enjoying a swim at the beach.

“I saw her flailing, and this dude, I think he was her friend, screamed ‘help she’s drowning,’ said Skaggs. “I thought he was joking because he was right there, but he continued to swim away from her. He screamed it a second time and I swam over there as fast as I could to get her.”

Skaggs said he just reacted.

“I had no idea what I was doing or if I would be able to save her at all,” he said. “When I got to her she wrapped around me and was completely in shock. I swam with her to about 10 feet from shore. Two ladies came with an inflatable raft, put her on it, and pulled her the rest of the way.”

Laila Petersen of Huntsville, Ark., was one of those ladies who helped.

It wasn’t a new experience for her.

“This is the second time I have helped someone who was drowning,” said Petersen. “I learned from prior experience that it can be a very dangerous situation for both the person helping and the victim.”

“The first time it happened I did not have time to grab any kind of flotation device,” she explained. “I was trying to save a young boy. His mother, who couldn’t swim, came out in the water to help. So instead of just keeping the boy above water I was also trying to keep her up. They both were freaking out and made it very difficult to keep us all above water. My first instinct this time was to grab the raft.”

Being involved in two traumatic water rescues has brought her emotions close to the surface.

“It still brings tears to my eyes thinking the outcome could have been a whole lot worse,” said Petersen. “Looking back it makes me a little frustrated that people don’t take the water seriously. Things can go wrong quickly. Both incidents could have been prevented had a little common sense been used. If you can’t swim and your child doesn’t swim, well, be smart enough to use a life jacket.”

Petersen and her sister, Anna Cannon, also from Huntsville, placed the floating raft under the 17-year-old and swam her to shore. They stayed with her until paramedics arrived and transported her to the hospital.

“When I arrived she was vomiting and shaking on the ground as first responders were preparing to place her on a stretcher,” said Corps Park Ranger Carly Combs, Table Rock Project Office. “She became unconscious at that time. She was placed in the ambulance and regained consciousness before leaving the park. She was treated at Cox Medical Hospital in Branson and released.”

“I was glad we were there to be able to help with the situation,” said Cannon.

Skaggs echoed Cannon’s sentiments.

“I’m happy I was there,” he said. “I’m happy I found the adrenaline I needed to keep my nose above that water to save her.”

Skaggs said he believes her friends teasing contributed to the 17-year-old’s decision to do something beyond her swimming abilities.

“Peer pressure is terrible,” he said. “If you can’t swim you shouldn’t be out that far. I hope she and whoever else reads this understands the importance of a life jacket and not to be pressured into such a life or death situation.”

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Swimming Safety Tips

Wearing a Life Jacket Can Save Your Life
To ensure you survive unexpected slips or falls overboard wear your life jacket, because it buys you time to be rescued. It only takes an adult an average of 60 seconds to drown and on average it takes 10 minutes for a strong swimmer to put on a life jacket after entering the water. If you will not wear it for yourself then wear it for those who love you. Great information on life jackets can be found at

Never Exceed Your Swimming Abilities or Swim Alone
Regardless of how well you swim you could have to fight for your life due to unexpected conditions such as waves, current, or exhaustion. A fellow swimmer can help you out when you encounter the unexpected. Remember your swimming abilities are likely to decrease with age so don’t overdo it.

Alcohol and Water are a Deadly Combination
When underwater and under the influence of alcohol or drugs you can suffer from an inner ear condition (caloric labyrinthitis) that causes you to become disoriented and not know which way is up.

Your Involuntary Gasp Reflex Can Kill You
A sudden unexpected fall into cold water causes an involuntary gasp (or torso) reflex. It takes less than half a cup of water in your lungs to drown. Your gasp reflex is delayed when you are under the influence of alcohol or drugs, which can lead to a last breath of water, instead of air. Falls contribute to 19 percent of all water-related fatalities on Corps-managed waters.

Drowning is a Silent Killer
An estimated 60 percent of all drownings are witnessed, because people are unable to identify the four signs of a drowning victim. Signs are head back (bobs up and down above/below the surface), mouth open, no sound and arms outstretched moving simultaneously in an above-the-water, up and down stroke that appears as if they are slapping or playing in the water.

Learn to Swim Well and Practice Floating
Besides wearing a life jacket, learning to swim well is one of your best defenses against drowning. Also, teach those you love and practice simple survival floating skills; remembering how to relax and float when exhausted can save your life. Swimming in natural or open waters is not the same as swimming in a pool. The USA Swimming Foundation works with local partners to offer free swimming lessons. Find a location near you at

Never Dive in Lakes & Rivers (Open Waters)
Open water situations where water depth is unknown and conditions are constantly changing with floating or underwater debris can be very dangerous. You never know what might lie unseen below open waters. Also, diving should only be done in the deep end of a swimming pool.

Don’t Depend on Floating or Air-filled Toys
There is no substitute for a life jacket, especially if you are a weak or non-swimmer. Inflatable toys like water wings are not dependable to keep children afloat and can deflate in seconds. Inflatable rafts or inner tubes can easily float into deep waters and might slip away from you or your child unexpectedly. The consequences could be fatal.

Watch for Dangerous Waves or Signs of Rip Currents
Rip currents are powerful flows of water that pull you away from the shore, even if you are a strong swimmer. These can occur in any body of water with breaking waves, including the Great Lakes. Swimming or even wading can turn into a tragedy if you don’t know how to identify and respond to rip currents. These are identified by water that is discolored, unusually choppy, foamy, or filled with debris. If you are caught in a rip current it is important to stay calm and not panic. These are usually narrow currents and swimming parallel to the shore should get you out of them. Once out of the current, swim toward the shore.

Wade with Caution
Watch for unexpected drop-offs and currents while wading in open water situations. The safest places to wade at US Army Corps of Engineers’ lakes are those designated as swimming areas because they are inspected for these types of dangers.

Obey All Signs and Buoys
Many times accidents, injuries and fatalities could have been prevented if the person just followed the posted signs or buoys. Staying within the buoys marking designated swim areas is the safest place to swim, especially where rescue equipment or life guards are located. You swim at your own risk on U.S. Army Corps of Engineers-managed waters because life guards are not provided; however, 80 percent of those who drown while swimming are outside of a designated swim area.