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'I knew we were in trouble': Hilton Head wind, tide leaves spring breakers stranded

As the wind and waves rolled along her paddleboard, Laura Jones didn’t notice at first how far she and her friend had drifted off a Hilton Head Island beach Wednesday afternoon.

“Probably 10 minutes after we got out there, I realized we were really far away from shore,” Jones said. “We spent the rest of the time trying to get back in, but the wind kept pushing us out.”

Jones came to the island only days earlier on spring break from Cedarville University in Ohio. She was accompanied by six friends from college and Dea Fallon, a childhood friend.

Jones, Fallon and Katie Erickson, who was on a paddleboard with Jones, were rescued Wednesday by Hilton Head Island Fire & Rescue and Shore Beach Services after they fought to get back to land for nearly two hours, Jones said. The trio entered the water near Hilton Head Beach and Tennis Resort.

“I tried a lot of different things,” Jones said. “I tried to go straight toward the shore, then I tried to go parallel toward the shore. Then the tide changed.”

Jones went out on a single paddleboard with Erickson. When it became clear that they were in trouble, Fallon swam out to help them.

“At that point, Katie and I were tired because we had been out there awhile,” Jones said. “Then my friend Dea came out to see if she could tow us back in, but she got stuck too. ... I’m usually not the one who panics, but I knew we were in trouble.”

Fortunately, someone on shore noticed their struggle and called 911.

According to a Fire & Rescue report, the three were over 500 yards from shore by 1:30 p.m. None of the three were properly dressed for the cold water and air temperatures.

Shore Beach Services sent out a wave runner from Burkes Beach and rescued them.

They were given blankets and care on shore, but did not need further medical attention.

“I’m just thankful that (emergency personnel) came,” Jones said. “... I’ve gone (paddleboarding) before when the weather was bad like that, but that was the first time I’ve had trouble. The wind, the current and the tide changed all at once.”

Caitlin Turner: 843-706-8184, @Cait_E_Turner