Aquadale teacher saves life in lake rescue on Memorial Day

Published 3:40 pm Wednesday, June 1, 2022

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The quick reaction of an Aquadale Elementary School teacher enjoying the Memorial Day holiday on the lake with her family saved the life of a stranger.

Leah Swink, a fourth-grade teacher, was dropping some friends off at a dock at the Old Whitney Boat Landing Monday, as her family, after spending the day on the water, was getting ready to do some catfishing, when a Ranger bass boat hit a stationary dock which had another boat tied to it. The solo male operator of the boat, going at a high rate of speed, was ejected from his boat as he ramped up the dock and hit the stationary boat, a wildlife officer said.

Swink said she heard the boat “flying behind us,” but did not see the incident, because she was busy. Her husband, Jeffery, and her daughter both saw the boat hit the ramp.

When Swink looked over, however, she said she saw the man in the air.

“It was like the man had been shot out of a cannon,” Leah said. “He just flew through the air.”

She saw him go into the water, without a life preserver on, but his body popped up to the surface, face down.

As Jeffery moved the boat closer to the man, Leah threw on her life jacket and grabbed an additional one for the victim, then jumped in and swam over to him, turning him over so he could breathe.

She never hesitated, Jeffery said.

“It’s just because you’re a mom and a person, you see somebody in need and you just do it,” Leah said. “I knew he was face down and if somebody didn’t get him to be not face down, he wasn’t going to live…if you see somebody that needs help, it’s just what you do.”

Two volunteer firefighters who were on the lake that day quickly swam up and rendered first aid, while N.C. Wildlife Officers Brandon Barbee and David Ritzheimer were on the scene as well within three minutes.

“My husband and kids were yelling for help and (the volunteer firefighters) came over. They knew more about what they were doing,” Leah said.

Barbee said the two volunteers put the boat operator on a knee board and kept him floating in the water until a rescue boat got on scene. The man was airlifted to Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist Hospital, where as of Tuesday, he remained in the ICU unit.

Leah serves Aquadale Elementary as the school’s first responder, adding it was important to put on her lifejacket and be safe before trying to help someone else. She said that was what she wanted her kids to remember about the incident.

“You never know when an accident is going to happen on the lake,” she said.

Regarding her quick reaction, Leah said she does not see herself as a hero, saying, “surely if somebody else would have been their first, they would have done the same thing.”

She said her family was celebrating Memorial Day and to her, “those are my heroes.”

About Charles Curcio

Charles Curcio has served as the sports editor of the Stanly News & Press for more than 16 years and has written numerous news and feature storeis as well. He was awarded the NCHSAA Tim Stevens Media Representative of the Year and named CNHI Sports Editor of the Year in 2014. He has also won an award from Boone Newspapers, and has won four North Carolina Press Association awards.

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