Man rescued after car plunges into Cape Fear River along Southport waterfront

SOUTHPORT, N.C. (WECT) – Emergency crews rescued a man late Tuesday night, May 14, after a car plunged into the Cape Fear River at Waterfront Park in Southport.

Southport Police Chief Todd Coring said officers responded to the park around 11:25 p.m. after getting a call about a car going into the river.

“Arriving officers found one vehicle drifting in the river with one occupant yelling for help. Officers attempted to cast life preservers but could not reach the occupant,” a Southport Police Department release states.

Fire Chief Charles Drew said that the man drove off the west side of the waterfront but the strong current and high tide caused the car to be swept toward the city pier.

The Southport Fire Department PD arrived within about 2 minutes and U.S. Coast Guard arrived within about 5 minutes and were able to rescue the man from the water after he escaped from his car.

Drew says that the car was towed by a tow boat from under the pier to near the Morningstar Marina, where it was recovered from.

The person behind the rescue: Captain Jonathan Bullard.

“I grabbed a life vest. I started down and I saw the P.D. throwing life rings of the end of the pier,” Bullard told WECT. “I came off the beach and made my way to swim out to him.”

Drew called Bullard a hero.

“I’m very proud of his efforts of saving the man’s life,” he said. “It could have been a terrible outcome. We could have been out here today searching for a body instead. Heroic efforts and quick response is what solved this problem and had a good ending.”

“Capt Jonathan Bullard swam in his protective life jacket 150 yards to rescue the victim. He was rescued and put on a USCG vessel, then transported to Southport Marina to be treated by Southport Medics,” the Southport Fire Department says on Facebook.

What’s the cause?

This isn’t the first time a crash like this has happened in Southport.

Drew said this is the third crash over the bulkhead of Southport’s waterfront in less than 12 months.

The other two crashes happening in July and September of 2023.

Drew said alcohol or medical issues are often the cause.

“A lot of people visiting the area don’t realize that’s the end of the street and they end up in the water,” Drew said.

As for Tuesday night’s crash, investigators are still working to determine the cause.

The investigation is ongoing.