Man saves child’s life at Crab Island

Two days after rescuing a child from an outgoing tide at Crab Island, Jason Cupp could still feel the fatigue.

At 49, Cupp is an experienced swimmer, understands the Gulf of Mexico and has been caught in multiple rip currents. In hindsight, he says he should have known better than to handle Monday’s rescue the way he did.

He should have grabbed the child and let the current carry them until he could break free and swim to shore. Instead, he fought it.

“The tide was so hard it took me 20 minutes to get 10 feet,” he said.

Jason Cupp and his family had been at Crab Island for several hours June 28 when the tide turned and a child on a neighboring boat was swept toward the Destin Pass.

The boy’s family was on a rental pontoon boat at the edge of Crab Island mid-afternoon Monday, when the little boy did a cannonball off the end closest to the Destin bridge.

Cupp and his family were on their boat nearby. The child’s parents started yelling at them to help, which is when Cupp jumped in. The boy’s two older brothers were also trying to help the child, who Cupp estimates to have been around 10.

“The little one looked like he was starting to take on water and go under. The look in his eyes was like, ‘I’m a goner,’” Cupp said. “I got behind him and started trying to push him and swim at the same time. It took me a good 20 minutes of fighting that hard outgoing tide.”

One of the brothers made it to safety unassisted, while Cupp shoved the other one back onto the sandy shelf where he could stand. Without Cupp’s assistance and the life preserver his brother-in-law tossed from their boat, he guesses the boy would have drowned.

There have already been three drowning deaths at Crab Island this year.

The tide was so strong at the time it dragged Cupp’s boat, which was anchored, into the deep water. People don’t realize the danger of an outgoing tide, he said.

“The child gets out there – it’s waist-deep,” he says. “Ten feet later, it’s 6 feet deep.”

Cupp said that he and his family never anchor that close to the drop-off but stopped there because it was less crowded. Now, he’s glad he was there.

“It was 100% nonstop pulling me out,” he said of the tide, and much more insistent than a rip current, which also costs lives each season along the coast. “A rip current, you get pulled out and at one point it stops pulling you. It’s a cycle. It pulls out and comes in. At Crab Island, it’s an 8-hour cycle.”

Signs need to be put up at that point, he believes, warning of the danger.

“There definitely needs to be something put up there at that edge going toward the bridge where it drops off,” he says. “I told the kids, ‘When you get out, if this ever happens to you again, don’t fight the current.”

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