Two men lauded as heroes for efforts trying to save rip current victims

Justin Eakes, left, and Scott Whitford (Facebook)

ATLANTIC BEACH, Carteret County - Two eastern North Carolina men have died but not in vain, as they risked their lives to save others caught in rip currents off of Atlantic Beach over the weekend.

Justin Eakes, 21, of Farmville, and Scott Whitford, 56, of New Bern, died within 48 hours of one another, having each chosen to try to save others at risk for drowning rather than thinking of themselves first.

Eakes was at the beach Sunday afternoon with four friends, and was preparing to come ashore and leave for the day. Just then, a rip current grabbed hold of two of the swimmers.

Shirley Kelly-Williams, a close friend of Eakes' and the mother of two of the individuals at the beach that day tells NewsChannel 12 Eakes dove back into the crashing waves to help rescue Kelly-Williams' daughter and her boyfriend.

"She looked at her boyfriend and said we're all gonna die," Kelly-Williams said. "And she really thought they were going to die."

Eakes was caught in the current, and though he was able to help the other swimmers, it came at great cost. He went into cardiac arrest, and was not breathing when he was finally pulled ashore.

He was taken to Vidant Medical Center in Greenville where he died Monday morning.

Kelly-Williams' 19-year-old daughter was taken to the hospital as well, suffering from kidney issues related to a large intake of salt water. She is expected to recover, and has since been released.

Eakes actually lived with Kelly-Williams, who said she hopes he will be remembered as a hero for what he did.

Similarly, Whitford risked his own life, swimming out into a rip current in an effort to save a pair of teenage girls off of Atlantic Beach on Saturday. Whitford drowned, however, though lifeguards and Atlantic Beach Fire Department rescuers were able to help get the two girls safely to shore.