OUTER BANKS, N.C. — A perfect day at the beach turned into a scary rescue recently on the Outer Banks.

“I feel lucky,” Xavier Bethel from Pennsylvania said.

The Bethel family was enjoying their yearly vacation. As Tricia Bethel said, “It’s family-oriented, quiet. The beaches aren’t crowded.”

Like this week, the surf was rough.

It was the last vacation day for the family. The couple told me that red flags were up for the entire week, except for that last day, when the flags changed to yellow.

“We figured we thought we would go play in the water,” Tricia Bethel said.

Xavier Bethel took advantage of the conditions and hopped in with their son.

Tricia Bethel stayed on the sand soaking up the last-minute rays.

“I saw our son walking out of the water alone,” Tricia Bethel said. “I look up and say, ‘Buddy, where is your dad?’ ‘He’s out there and I don’t know what to do.'”

Xavier Bethel was yards off the shore.

He said it happened in a blink of an eye.

“We were just diving under the waves — out of nowhere, we dove under one,” he said. “Next thing you know, I was close to 200 yards out from the shoreline.”

Panic set in.

“Someone just died the day before in Avon,” Xavier Bethel said. “There is no way this is going to happen to me.”

He said he leaned on his military training and leaned back.

“I started floating and calmed down and started breathing,” he said.

The lifeguard was flagged down and quickly jumped in. The lifeguard helped Xavier out of the water.

He said he feels thankful, but it weighs heavy on him that in the same week, three people drowned.

“Not everyone was as fortunate as we are,” he said.

He hopes sharing his story can save someone’s life.

This week, red flags are flying across Hampton Roads and North Carolina’s coast. It’s dangerous, and the Bethel family shared advice, hoping people will stay safe.

“I would tell them to be where a lifeguard at,” Xavier Bethel said. “Pay attention and watch out for other swimmers, too. Don’t the water fool you. Don’t take it for granted. Pay attention to the flags.” 

Said Tricia Bethel: “We’ve learned we aren’t going in the water without a floatation device.”