September 3, 2008
Maryland man is seashore’s first drowning victim of the year
By IRENE NOLAN
A Maryland man who was a regular visitor to the Cape Hatteras National
Seashore and who was training for a triathlon drowned in the ocean near
Ramp 43 on Labor Day.
Thomas Sonnier, 48, of Parsonsburg, Md., was the first person to drown
at the seashore this year, according to seashore district ranger, John
“I was hopeful we would get by the entire summer without a
drowning,” McCutcheon said. “And we made it all the
way to Labor Day.
McCutcheon, who was the first law enforcement officer on the scene,
which is just south of Cape Hatteras National Seashore and north of
Cape Point, said Sonnier was on the beach with his family – his
wife and son and his wife’s parents and sister – when he
decided to go for a swim about noon on Monday, Sept. 1.
Sonnier, he said, was swimming north about 50 to 100 feet off the
shore, and in no apparent distress, according to witnesses, when they
suddenly noticed him floating face down. His 29-year-old son and
other onlookers, including McCutcheon, tried to rescue him.
However, they were unable to bring him to shore until the Hatteras
Island Rescue Squad arrived and brought the victim to the beach –
a matter of only a few minutes.
McCutcheon said the victim has no pulse and that the rescue squad
performed CPR for 17 minutes but were not able to revive him. He
was pronounced dead at 12:45 p.m.
The surf was rough, McCutcheon said, with swells of about 6 1/2 feet, from Tropical Storm Hanna near the Bahamas.
McCutcheon said that seashore officials had seen rip currents along the
shore in an aerial tour earlier in the day. When the ranger
arrived on the scene, he said he did not see a rip current, but a short
time later, he did observe rip currents north and south of where
Sonnier was swimming.
McCutcheon said the victim’s wife said the family visited the
seashore regularly and were spending the Labor Day holiday at the
beach. She said that her husband liked to swim in that area of
“It’s unfortunate that the family had to witness everything,” McCutcheon said.
He said he advises that beachgoers to stay out of the ocean for the
rest of the week. The ocean, he noted, will get only rougher as Hanna
approaches from the south.
Rangers, he said, are on the beaches, handing out rip current information.
The Park Service and other groups have made an increased effort this
year to get a new brochure about rip currents into the hands of the
That, McCutcheon thinks may be a reason that there have been fewer
drownings on the seashore this summer, compared to the last several
In 2007, eight people drowned on seashore beaches.
For more information on rip currents
You can get the surf zone forecast, which includes the rip current risk, daily on the NOAA Weather Service radio.
Other information is available:
NOAA rip current forecast:
www.weather.gov/newport. Click on surf zone forecast on the left side of the screen.
National Park Service – Cape Hatteras Seashore
Hatteras Island Visitor Center – 252-995-4474
Hatteras Island Ranger Station – 252-995-5044
Ocracoke Island ranger station – 252-928-5111
Ocracoke Visitor Center -- 252-928-4531