State College

State High exchange student killed in Cape Hatteras accident

Sirawich “Jo” Chantaburanan, an exchange student at State College Area High School, drowned in a riptide off Frisco Beach in the Outer Banks on Tuesday.
Sirawich “Jo” Chantaburanan, an exchange student at State College Area High School, drowned in a riptide off Frisco Beach in the Outer Banks on Tuesday. Photo provided

A State College Area High School student has been confirmed drowned in North Carolina.

There were just a few days of school left for exchange student Sirawich “Jo” Chantaburanan.

The 17-year-old from Muang, Thailand, was a junior at State High. According to Carl Hill, coordinator for local Rotary International Youth Exchange students, Chantaburanan and another student from Belgium had flown to the Outer Banks of North Carolina with the family of another boy in the exchange program who was staying with a family in Bedford.

“They went down Friday and were due to come back today,” Hill said.

But on Tuesday, he said, Chantaburanan went out into the water on his boogie board to urge one of the other boys to come back toward shore. The other boy came back safely. Chantaburanan disappeared with the riptide.

According to the Coast Guard, its crews and Hatteras Island Rescue personnel began searching for Chantaburanan off Frisco Beach near Hatteras after watch standers were notified at about 1:40 p.m.

The search was called off Wednesday morning after rescue personnel discovered the body, which was transferred to a local mortuary and identified. Hill received that call at 6:15 a.m.

“Last night, we were about 99 percent sure that he was gone,” Hill said. “It was horrible, but somehow I’m relieved to know he’s been found.”

Chantaburanan was one of 11 exchange students in Centre County. He stayed with two different families since arriving in State College in August 2016. The daughter from one of those host families will graduate on Saturday, as will a child from the host family of Chantaburanan’s Belgian friend.

“Because Jo spent the entire year as an active State High student, he developed close relationships with both classmates and teachers,” Superintendent Bob O’Donnell. “Our heavy hearts go out to his loved ones and friends struggling with their pain and loss, and we wish them the strength and courage to carry on without a young man suddenly taken from them.”

The district is also focusing on how Chantaburanan’s death is hitting the school community.

“We have been in contact with the host families and share in their loss,” said State College Area School District Director of Student Services Jeanne Knouse. “There is no way to prepare for such a tragedy, and saying goodbye to a child, a student, a friend and/or a classmate is a very sad and hard thing to do. As a district, we express our deepest condolences to Jo’s family in Thailand and his host families. We will continue to provide counseling at the high school and support to anyone who having difficulty coping with this tragedy.”

Lori Falce: 814-235-3910, @LoriFalce. Richard Stradling of the News and Observer in Raleigh, N.C., contributed to this report.