The father and daughter who were rescued from a rip current off the Massachusetts coast recently today got to meet the mystery man who helped lifeguards and others pull them to safety.
"Thank God [Tommy Vach] was there," Derrick Johns said with a laugh today. "And thank God we pulled next to him on the beach."
Derrick Johns, a former Marine from Texas, was at Surfside Beach in Nantucket Tuesday with his wife, two daughters and other family members when a rip current swept him and his 16-year-old daughter, Erynn, far from the shoreline.
"I said to Erynn, 'Start swimming,'" Derrick Johns said today. "And then we really felt the current at that point."
Erynn Johns, who was clutching an underwater camera with a selfie stick attached, struggled to keep her head above the water. Their harrowing journey was captured on video as both father and daughter held on to the selfie stick. But then Derrick Johns lost his grip.
"At that point, I was totally lost. I just turned around and we were so far from the shore. ... He just told me I needed to swim," Erynn Johns said today. "I used all my energy and I could not swim against that current."
The two signaled to Derrick Johns' wife that they were in trouble and she rushed in. With the help of lifeguards and Good Samaritans, including Vach, she was able to reach and pull her to the beach. In the meantime, Derrick Johns said today that he could feel himself tiring.
"When I saw the lifeguards get my wife and Tommy get to Erynn, I really had maybe 20 or 30 seconds life [in me,]" he said today. "No one was around me. I went under twice and then I came up and I saw Tommy."
Vach, who was on the beach and sitting close to the Johnses, said at first he and a friend thought the family was playing in the water but then he got closer to the shoreline.
"They were screaming for help," he said.
Vach and lifeguards first helped Erynn Johns and her mother and then set out to get Derrick Johns back to the beach.
"I could tell that [Derrick] was physically exhausted,” Vach said. "Eventually we got him to the beach and we rested him and he responded. ... It was a little scary to see his face like that. He was a little scared."
Vach said that today was his first opportunity to meet and talk to the Johnses because both father and daughter had been taken to the hospital immediately after their ordeal to get checked out.
"A lot of people would've done the same thing that I did," Vach said. "I was glad I was there, in the right spot to help out."
Vach said he hoped their story was a lesson to other beachgoers.
"Riptides are very serious and the ocean is always in control," he said. "It's a pretty forceful energy you have to deal with out there. … You never know how dangerous a riptide can be until you’re actually in one."