Patrick McKenna, 21, of Bath has worked as a lifeguard at Popham Beach State Park for the past four years. Photo courtesy of Patrick McKenna

PHIPPSBURG — Lifeguard Patrick McKenna rescued three teenagers who were stranded on a rock near Wood Island by the rising tide Friday afternoon.

Around 2 p.m. last Friday, two brothers, ages 13 and 19, and one girl, 18, from Windham walked to Wood Island during low tide, but were trapped as the tide rose and covered the sandbar, according to Phippsburg Police Chief John Skroski. He said McKenna, who works as a lifeguard at Popham Beach State Park, swam out to the island and brought the teens back to shore one by one on his rescue board.

Everyone was back on the beach, unhurt, just after 4 p.m.

“A lot of people walk out when the tide is low, but then when the tide comes back they literally get caught off guard,” said Skroski. “We have people who get stranded from time to time, but normally Fox Island is the one that gets the most rescues.”

Wood Island, a piece of private property northeast of Fox Island, is accessible by a sandbar at low tide.

McKenna, 21, of Bath, said he regularly clears people off Fox Island before the tide gets too high so people don’t become stranded. He said he was in the process of doing that on Friday when another lifeguard alerted him to the people stranded on a rock off the shore of Wood Island.

“So far this year, I’ve been prepared with a wetsuit, but this time I was just in swim trunks,” he said. “It was really cold.”

McKenna estimated the distance from the shore to Wood Island is about 300 yards, meaning he paddled about 1,800 yards total, or 18 football fields, in 54-degree water.

“It’s what we’re hired to do,” he said. “I came in and, honestly, I was exhausted. I was alright, I was just thirsty.”

McKenna said the biggest challenge in that situation is coaching people through the fear and convincing them to get into the water.

“There’s a bit of counseling that goes into getting someone on the board and bringing them back to shore,” he said. “It’s normal. … Any person in that situation would be terrified.”

McKenna said the rescue became more difficult as the tide rose and the currents grew stronger. He started to tire. He said he never felt scared because two other lifeguards were standing by, ready to help.

Popham Beach State Park, located 14 miles south of Bath at the mouth of the Kennebec River, is Maine’s busiest state park beach, according to the Maine Department of Agriculture Bureau of Parks and Land.

Sue and Bob Nusbaum of Phippsburg witnessed the rescue, and said the current around Wood Island was strong that day. “That lifeguard deserves a medal,” Bob Nusbaum said.

“Wood Island and Pond Island are on either side of the Kennebec River, so the river tends to be very choppy and unpredictable there because of the cross-currents,” said Bob Nusbaum. “If you get swept off your feet there, you’re in major danger, and the tide doesn’t have to be over your head to sweep you off your feet.”

Sue Nusbaum said Wood Island is more dangerous than Fox Island because it’s lower and becomes submerged by the rising tide faster than Fox Island.

“If people want to walk out to a sandbar, they need to know when low tide is and not go out when the tide is rising,” she said. “The local people all know that’s a really dangerous area.”


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.