WEAR - Search Results
Black Sunday recalls tragic anniversary of multiple drownings
They called it Black Sunday.
Ten years ago this week, eight people drowned in Okaloosa and Walton Counties in the space of a few hours.
The tragedy led to big changes in the beach safety system.
June 8, 2003 was the first sunny day after a string of gray and rainy ones. The surf, a lot like it is today, was stirred up by a low pressure system, full of rip currents"
Dawn Garcia grew up on these beaches.
She says the danger of rip currents wasn't widely known.
Dawn said, "I do remember being out there hand in hand with my mom and my aunt and cousins, and there were many times that we were swept under and carried down."
Beach Safety Chief Tracey Vause was a paramedic on Black Sunday. She also remembers that day well, saying "On that day, we just went from call to call to call to call."
There was no lifeguard program at the time, so emergencies were already in progress when crews got the calls.
With rescues going on in front of them, people kept getting in the water.
Tracey Vause said, "As I and the other rescuers were trying to do CPR, a beach patron steps over the victim's feet to go into the very water the victim had just been rescued from."
Dawn adds, "It just seemed like a sad strange set of circumstances and it was obviously what launched the system that we have now."
The tragedy of eight drownings in one day led to changes including the uniform beach flag warning system, and putting professional lifeguards on the beach with an emphasis on preventing drownings through education.
Dawn said, "We got here today and I saw the signs up, do not enter the water and I thought wow, things have really changed."
Laura Hussey concluded her report, saying "The lifeguard in the tower behind me is an example of how things have changed. He was in second grade in 2003, came up through the county's Junior Lifeguard program. Now he's on duty, making sure Black Sunday never happens again."