'I thought I might die': Parents watch as boy, 8, swept out to sea on inflatable unicorn

An eight-year-old boy has made national headlines in the US after he was rescued from a large unicorn-shaped inflatable that drifted out to sea.

The boy from Ohio was visiting a beach at Oak Island, North Carolina, on a family holiday when he was swept out to sea on the large inflatable animal last week.

“From witness comments heard on the beach, and some witness comments we’ve read on social media, it happened suddenly when the wind pushed the raft from shallow water to deeper water in seconds,” Oak Island Water Rescue said in a Facebook post detailing the rescue.

“Once it was out past the waves, the big float acted like a sail and the unicorn float kept going away from the beach.”

Rescuers can be seen approaching the boy's inflatable unicorn at sea. Source: Facebook/Oak Island Water Rescue

Boy’s cheeky warning to lifesavers

The youngster, Declan O'Connor, did an amazing job of staying calm and remaining on the float, lifesavers said.

And despite his worrying predicament, he certainly didn’t lose sight of what was important. When the rescue workers got to him, he made sure they didn’t hurt his unicorn.

“When Boat 4491 reached him, he told the crew not to pop the unicorn float or they would get in trouble,” Water Rescue recalled.

In a TV interview with ABC News, the eight-year-old said he began panicking when the inflatable unicorn drifted past the waves.

"I was really scared and thinking like I might die and all that stuff," he said.

A man drags the unicorn to shore following the rescue effort. Source: Facebook/Oak Island Water
A relieved mum and dad embrace the youngster following the rescue. Source: Facebook/Oak Island Water Rescue

‘It was a lot of tears’

The boy, who doesn’t know how to swim, was not wearing a life jacket at the time and was being supervised by family members on the beach. But his parents found themselves in a frightening position when they could no longer see their son and quickly called authorities.

Two lifesavers jumped in an inflatable rescue boat and reached the boy “hundreds of yards” from the shoreline, much to the delight of his waiting parents.

"It was a lot of tears, exhalation, being grateful and thankful for those rescuers," the boy’s mother, Jill O'Connor, told ABC News.

The large inflatable toys have become increasingly popular with beachgoers in recent years but local authorities said the incident highlights the danger of using them in the ocean.

“Keep those large animal rafts at home and off the beach,” the Oak Island Water Rescue warned.

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