DUNEDIN — Lindsay LaNette wouldn't normally be at Honeymoon Island in the middle of the work week.
But the mother of three from Odessa didn't have a babysitter to watch her 10-year-old daughter, home for spring break, on Wednesday, so she took the day off from work and headed out on an impromptu beach trip with her daughter and 16-year-old cousin.
And several swimmers may be alive because she did.
About 1 p.m., an hour after the family got to the beach, LaNette, 33, pulled a boy and a girl from the surf. Both were in danger of drowning, she said.
An hour later, LaNette saw more people in trouble.
They were caught in a powerful rip current. LaNette pulled two men to safety before firefighters from Dunedin and Palm Harbor arrived and helped another man and two women from the water. All five were swimming in a posted "No Swimming" area near the jetty about 2 p.m. when they got caught in the rip current, according to Dunedin Fire Rescue.
"I noticed this family of five. I thought I heard 'Help,' but I wasn't sure with the wind and the waves being so loud," LaNette said.
But then LaNette "locked eyes" with the oldest man in the group, a 50-year-old. He was screaming for help.
That's when LaNette sprang into action. She yelled to her cousin, 16-year-old Makayla Eyring, and her daughter, 10-year-old Jordan Mericle, to grab the inner tube she had seen laying on the beach nearby.
With the inner tube, she helped the man to shore, then passed him off to her cousin
Then she went after the other man. The current was so strong it had ripped the man's bathing suit from his body, she said. He was badly scraped by barnacles and seemed ready to go under, she said.
"It was amazing the strength of the water," she said. "I'd never seen it that bad."
Names were not released but Dunedin fire Division Chief Bill McElligott said the swimmers were two 19-year-old women and three men ages 23, 40 and 50.
Four of the five people were treated by paramedics at the scene. No one was hospitalized, McElligott said. Conditions were choppy with 3- to 4-foot seas at the time.
Rip currents occur when a powerful channel of water flows out to sea from the shore, according to the National Weather Service, which forecast a moderate risk of rip currents in the Tampa area Wednesday.
They can be deadly for swimmers, who tire as they try to swim to shore only to be pushed farther out to sea. It's estimated that 100 people die nationwide each year from rip currents, the National Weather Service said.
In July 2004, a 55-year-old Lutz man drowned at Honeymoon Island after he saved a child caught in a rip current. Earlier that month, a Largo man died trying to save his granddaughter in a rip current near John's Pass in mid Pinellas. The girl was saved by a bystander.
"We want to remind folks to swim parallel to the beach until you swim out of the rip and then in to shore," McElligott said.