Airman's water safety advice prevents local swimmer from drowning
ANDERSEN AIR FORCE BASE, Guam -- With white waves crashing hard against the rugged reef, and screams that can be heard in the near distance in the ocean, an Airman from the 36th Medical Support Squadron, encountered what would be one of the darkest days of his life.
On Aug. 8, 2015, Staff Sgt. Carlos Rance, 36th Medical Support Squadron logistics technician, went on a hike to Agua Cove with a few friends to enjoy the water and have a good time. Upon arrival to the cove, Rance noticed the water was especially rough, as the waves were crashing against the reef line. He also noticed a few local teenagers were playing in the water despite the conditions.
“The view was beautiful, but the water was extremely rough. Although I wanted to have a great time and enjoy the water, I knew it wasn’t a good idea that day,” he said. “There were a couple of kids out there playing in the water, and it made me nervous seeing how close to the reef they were, so I figured they knew what limits to take.”
Rance’s assertion was incorrect as one of the teens headed for the reef and jumped into the raging waters.
“I’m guessing he was trying to jump in and swim back before the waves hit but he got swept into the ocean,” he said.
As the teenager was swept into the ocean, Rance raced to the reef to find the panicking teen screaming in the water. Seeing the teen attempt to swim back towards the reef, Rance yelled instructions to swim backwards away from the reef and towards the ocean.
“The water safety training I have received throughout my Air Force career taught me to never swim towards the reef, it is extremely sharp and will do way more harm than good. Thankfully the teen listened and he swam away towards the open ocean.”
Climbing down from the reef, Rance rushed to put on his shoes to run up the hill and call the Coast Guard. As he prepared to run for help, one of the teenagers insisted on jumping in the water in attempt to save his friend.
“His friend panicked and made a plan to jump in the water to go save him; I told him that it’s not a good idea to get in the water seeing how dangerously rough the waves were.”
After returning back down from calling for help, Rance came back to the news that the teen went against his advice and jumped in the water. The teen tied a rope around his waist, with the other end tied around the reef, and jumped in.
That was the moment Rance said he knew the situation was not going to end well.
“The folks around said the teen jumped in and they didn’t see him for a few minutes,” he recalled. “Concerned, I went up on the reef to see if I could see him. Once on the reef, I saw the rope but I didn’t see the kid. My friends and I went to the rope to see if we could grab it and see if maybe the rope was unattached to him.”
What Rance discovered next would be the start of a tragic loss.
“I tugged on the rope and felt a heavy object weighing it down, I pulled it up a bit and saw the unconscious body of the young man on the other end of the rope,” he said. “At this time, the Coast Guard made their way to the other teenager who was out in the ocean.”
Rance and his friend worked to pull the unconconcious body on a flat section of the reef. The teen’s body was in bad condition, as the reefs sharp edges had already caused many wounds.
“After we pulled his body up, I untied the rope from him and began swinging it around as a distress signal to the helicopters who were unaware of the first teenager in the ocean,” he said. “The rescue team, which was from Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron Two-Five, spotted us and quickly made their way over and picked up the teen.”
Relieved that the teens were rescued, Rance later learned that the second individual who jumped into the water passed away the next day due to drowning.
“You should be prepared for whatever activity you choose to do whether it’s hiking or swimming,” said Lieutenant William Bartek, HSC-25 search and rescue officer. “Always go with someone, and if you are in distress remember to stay calm and help will come.”
Individuals are reminded to always travel with another person when hiking or going to a secluded area of the island. Inform at least two individuals of where you are going and what time you are returning. When hiking or swimming, have a first aid kit or supplies handy in the event of an emergency. For any questions regarding water safety or what beaches or coves are safe, contact the wing safety office at 366-3325.