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National Weather Service scientist dies in rough surf after forecast of risk

William Lapenta was a federal scientist who oversaw weather prediction centers. He died after lifeguards pulled him from the surf in Duck, N.C.
Credit: National Weather Service Director via Twitter

DUCK, N.C. — A federal scientist who oversaw weather prediction centers tracking ocean, hurricane and even space conditions has died in rough seas on North Carolina’s Outer Banks.

Local officials say 58-year-old William Lapenta died Monday after lifeguards pulled him from the surf off the coastal town of Duck. The National Weather Service had warned earlier Monday about the area’s high risk of rip currents, a beach phenomenon that can pull swimmers out to sea.

Town spokeswoman Christian Legner said Wednesday that Lapenta was swimming alone and it’s not clear if he’d been caught by a rip current. Legner said lifeguards pulled Lapenta to shore, but responding emergency medical workers said he was dead at the scene.

The weather service has recorded seven previous deaths in rip currents in North Carolina this year.