Photojournalism teacher saves three from rip current


Josh Meltzer, photojournalist-in-residence for the photojournalism department, works with a student during the Appalachian Cultural Project, March 8, 2011.   

Cameron Koch

An ordinary day of relaxing on the beach quickly became anything but ordinary for one WKU professor when he rushed to the aid of two drowning beach goers.

Josh Meltzer, photojournalist-in-residence for the photojournalism department, was at the beach in Deluth, Minn., for the 4th of July holiday with his wife and son. As his family arrived off the coast of Lake Superior Monday to enjoy the day, Meltzer noticed a teenage girl running towards the water.

“That’s really weird, the water’s pretty cold,” Meltzer said he thought to himself. “I wondered why she was doing that.”

He soon realized that she was running to the aid of two people in the lake, struggling to keep their heads above the large waves.

He followed the teenager into the lake, only for the girl to be pulled under by the strong riptide. Meltzer first pulled her back to shore and then immediately went after the original two swimmers.

Meltzer said that the two people, one an adult woman and the other a pre-teen girl, immediately attempted to latch onto him – a dangerous situation for all involved.

“They both jumped on me,” Meltzer said. “It was sort of terrible, I was grabbing this girls hand and throwing her off of me,” he said. “Probably the last thing she wanted, but it was the only way she was going to make it.”

Meltzer pushed them off and begin to reassure them that everything was going to be OK. He instructed them to float on their backs and to conserve energy.  

Meltzer grabbed hold of the young girl and slowly but surely fought through the current to bring her to shore.

As other beachgoers pulled the girl to shore and provided a lifejacket to help the woman still in the water, another man waded back into the lake with Meltzer to help.  They placed the life jacket on the woman and together the two men pulled her to shore as emergency officials arrived.

Loup Langton, department head for the school of Journalism and Broadcasting, said in an email that he wasn’t surprised to hear of how Meltzer acted in the situation.

“There’s really little to say when confronted with true heroism – the act trumps whatever words might be used to describe it. Josh goes about life in a quiet, confident manner so I can’t say that I’m surprised that he would react as he did, but still…this is an amazing story,” Langton said.

The local newspaper, the Duluth News Tribune, where Meltzer worked for four years quickly caught wind of the story, and as word got out Meltzer said he has received praise from family, friends, the police, firefighters and his students.

At the end of the day though Meltzer feels he didn’t do anything special.

“It’s been overwhelming,” Meltzer said.  “It’s very nice to hear but it’s not the kind of thing anybody else who felt comfortable in the water wouldn’t have done.”