A 4-year-old boy and his mother were walking on a beach in Kitty Hawk when a wave hit the boy and swept him out to sea on Wednesday afternoon, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.
The Coast Guard and other emergency responders searched for the boy in the water off Lillian Street in Kitty Hawk for hours before suspending their search around 8:30 p.m.
"A tragic accident occurred today in Kitty Hawk," Kitty Hawk Police Chief Joel C. Johnson wrote on Facebook. "Under the watchful eye of the attending parents while walking along the shore, a four year old boy was swept from his mother into the ocean and carried away by the current. As parents, this is our worst nightmare, even for those of us who love and have grown up by the ocean. Please join us in thought and prayer for this family as we mourn with them the loss and give thanks for the well-being of our own children."
A helicopter crew from Air Station Elizabeth City and Coast Guard boats from the Oregon Inlet station also were involved in the search and together combed 130 square miles.
"Suspending a search for anyone, let alone a young child, is the most difficult thing a commanding officer in the Coast Guard is called upon to do," said Capt. Bion Stewart. "I can't imagine what the family of this little boy is going through right now."
The child has not been publicly identified.
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