Little is known about the circumstances that led to the deaths of Beaufort residents Norman Kirkland Jr. and Steven Wright Jr. on Lowcountry waterways last month.
However, in both of their cases -- and in the rescue of a man from the Beaufort River last week -- there is one constant: the presence of strong currents.
Kirkland, 13, disappeared while swimming in the Ashepoo River in Colleton County May 11. His body was recovered later that day by a local fire search and rescue team, which noted the presence of a strong current in the area in its report.
Wright, 28, disappeared Memorial Day while swimming near the Wimbee Creek Landing in Dale. Witnesses said Wright appeared to be pulled out into the channel by the strong current.
Never miss a local story.
In a third incident, authorities rescued a 39-year-old man from the Beaufort River early May 24. The man, who had entered the river at the Pigeon Point Landing, was quickly caught in the current and swept away. He was later rescued near the Woods Memorial Bridge. He was arrested for public drunkenness after he was treated for minor injuries and released from Beaufort Memorial Hospital.
Tyler Hansen, who saw the man drive into the water at the boat landing, said the group the man was with did not believe he was in trouble, even after he shouted for them to call 911.
"The woman he was with told me that he was a great swimmer, and that he was just playing, that he did stuff like that all the time," Hansen said.
The two drowning victims also were described as strong swimmers.
But a strong current can quickly negate that skill, officials said.
Around Beaufort County, those currents are a result of several different factors, according to Dick Jennings of Beaufort Water Search & Rescue.
"Water forced inland into the rivers in the area can get held there by an easterly wind, even after the tide peaks," he said. "That water will compress and rip out and rush out of the area. Swimmers and boaters need to be extra cautious of strong tides in the area and pay attention to advisories about it."
Jennings compared the effect of the water rushing out to sea to the rush of water that follows the removal of a stopper from a bathtub.
S.C. Department of Natural Resources Sgt. Michael Paul Thomas said Wright's disappearance and the rescue of the man happened at a time when tides in the area were at their peak.
"Swimmers should be aware of the tides, current and depth in the area," he said. "If you are swimming at a depth beyond what you can stand in, a lifejacket or a flotation device should be used."
Both Jennings and Thomas said that swimmers caught in a strong current should swim with it, rather than against it.
"Swimming against the current will only tire the person quicker," Thomas said. "Swimming with the current will help the person conserve energy."
With the boating and recreational season in full swing, DNR and other local agencies are out in force to offer safety tips.
Beaufort Fire Department Capt. John Robinson said the Beaufort County Fire Chief's Safety Education Team, made up of members from all of the departments in the county, handed out safety information cards at boat landings across the county Sunday. Robinson said the departments previously handed out the cards May 26.
Robinson said the cards are also available at most bait and fishing supply shops across the county.
They include information for boaters and swimmers alike, including what to do if a person is caught in a rip current.
"To have these drownings so early in the season is unfortunate," Robinson said, "but it's a reminder that we need this information out there to prevent these situations as much as we can."