DUNEDIN —Alan and Eileen Hall went for a walk Sunday afternoon on the beach at Honeymoon Island State Park. They looked for pretty seashells as they approached the point, the thumb-shaped strip of sand jutting out into Hurricane Pass.
A look of concern crossed Alan's face. Three small children were playing in the water near the pass. Behind them, white-capped waves bounced off each other, a sign on the water's surface of the strong current underneath.
"I hope those parents are watching their kids," Alan, 65, said to Eileen, 62. "That could be really dangerous."
As if on cue, the children screamed for help. The current was pulling them out. Their parents dove in after them. Alan followed.
The mother grabbed one child. The father grabbed another. Alan swam after the third, 5-year-old Ruby Monahan. He caught up to her, but now the current had him, too.
A crowd gathered. Eileen watched helplessly as her husband of 42 years swam parallel to the shore, the little girl in his arm. Alan yelled for help. Eileen screamed for someone to call 911.
Alan swam until the current's grip loosened, then he nudged the girl toward shore. As she bounded to safety, Alan leaned back. He looked tired, Eileen said later. Then he turned over, face down into the water.
Two men swam out with lifevests. They yelled at Alan to pick his head up, to breathe. Alan didn't move.
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Alan Hall's heroic death Sunday afternoon mirrors the July 2004 death of Domenic Giunta, a 55-year-old Lutz man who drowned while helping rescue several children caught in the surf.
Both men died in Hurricane Pass, the narrow band of water that flows between Honeymoon and Caladesi islands. Created when the Hurricane of 1921 split Honeymoon Island — then called Hog Island — in two, Hurricane Pass is a major entrance and exit point for the heavily traveled Intracoastal Waterway in north Pinellas County. The pass has long had a reputation as a dangerous place to swim.
"All the water from Clearwater Harbor to St. Joseph's Sound needs to flow through that little hole," said Pete Krulder, park manager at Honeymoon Island. Three environmental factors in place this weekend combined to make an already strong current stronger, according to Krulder — a full moon Friday night, strong winds out of the northeast Sunday and a low pressure system.
Honeymoon Island does have lifeguards between Memorial Day and Labor Day, according to Florida Department of Environmental Protection spokeswoman Jennifer Diaz, but only in designated swimming areas.
Hurricane Pass is not one of those areas. There are several brown signs along the walkway to the beach near the pass. A message in white letters warns visitors: "CAUTION. STRONG TIDAL CURRENTS. SWIM AT YOUR OWN RISK."
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The minister told Eileen she shouldn't marry Alan.
It was 1969, and 23-year-old Alan had just proposed to 20-year-old Eileen. The very same week, Alan found out he had testicular cancer. The doctors thought he'd be dead within a year.
"You'll be widowed in three months," the minister told Eileen.
"I don't care," she replied. "I'd rather be married to him for three months than not at all."
The minister was wrong. Alan survived. The Halls had two children and raised them in Connecticut. Alan worked as a salesman for Frito-Lay; Eileen was a nurse.
Last year, they retired. They had always wanted to spend their golden years some place warm. Their daughter, Julie Hall, lives in Lutz. Alan and Eileen found a nice house in Land O'Lakes. They moved down from Cheshire, Conn., last Halloween.
Julie introduced them to one of her favorite beach spots — Honeymoon Island.
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Alan loved to golf. He also loved music. He started playing drums in his 40s and joined a marching band. More than anything, though, he loved his family. They loved him back.
"He was a hero to me, my brother and mom our whole lives," wrote Julie Hall, 40, in an email. "Yesterday he got to be someone else's hero. . . . I am so proud of my dad and hope to be half the person he was."
Alan Hall had saved the lives of countless animals over the years, his family said. He once cut a goose free from fishing wire, even as other birds, not understanding he was trying to help, attacked him.
On Sunday, Alan saved the life of 5-year-old Ruby Monahan. She was vacationing from Ohio with her family, DEP officials said.
The Monahan family followed the Halls to the hospital Sunday afternoon. The father was grateful, Eileen said. The mother was distraught, and cried. She kept apologizing. Eileen told her to stop.
"Don't feel guilty," Eileen told her. "He made a choice. Even if he had known the outcome ahead of time, he would have done it anyway. That's how he lived his life."
Times researcher Natalie Watson contributed to this report. Will Hobson can be reached at (727) 445-4167 or firstname.lastname@example.org.