ANDERSEN AIR FORCE BASE, Guam -- Waves crashing on the reef line, the ocean at high tide and winds blowing strongly seemed to almost forecast what a dark day it would become for an Airman at the 36th Medical Group.
On Aug. 5, 2016, Staff Sgt. Jason Blas, a 36th Medical Support Squadron pharmacy flight chief, took a trip to Gun Beach in Tamuning, Guam, with his family and friends. Since the water conditions were not favorable, they decided to swim closer to the shore, with the intentions of avoiding danger.
After a few minutes, Blas heard screams coming from the reef and saw a man waving his arms back and forth. At first he thought the man was waving to somebody else on shore, but after seeing another man yelling for help, he realized someone was in danger.
“We noticed there was another person beyond the reef line who was bobbing,” Blas said. “I told my wife that one of the men was drowning and to call 911. Four other guys and I rushed out into the water. One of the men was inside the reef line and the other was outside of it. As I got closer to the men, I realized they were speaking Korean and because I am fluent in that language, I was able to communicate with to them to find out what happened.”
At Gun Beach there is a path that leads from the beach to outside of reef which are used by scuba divers. Since that is the only opening in the reef line, the man was carried by the current while snorkeling.
“They didn’t know how to swim, but luckily had life vests on,” Blas said. “We were trying to tell the man stuck beyond the reef to calm down, because he was trying to swim back straight from where he came from and consequently, was swallowing a lot of water. Because the riptide was going in and out, he would have been sucked back in and under if it wasn’t for his life vest. We were directing him how to swim back towards us, but after about ten minutes, he became unresponsive.”
With no sight of an ambulance on scene, Blas decided to risk his own life and go past the reef to rescue the man with the help of the other men who rushed into the ocean with him.
“Once I passed the reef, I got close enough to push him off to the side so that one of the other men could grab him,” Blas said. “Then I started thinking how bad the situation was because I was then stuck. Luckily, I was able to swim away and out and I landed on the other side of the reef where someone came and helped me.”
After everybody was safely on shore, Blas saw how tired the man was and assessed the situation and checked his vital signs. Fortunately, the man did not need CPR before the ambulance arrived.
“A few minutes after getting back to shore, the fire department responded,” Blas said. “The emergency responders assessed him and took him to the hospital to evaluate him and check to see if he had any fluid in his lungs.”
With his past experience as a lifeguard, Blas was able to do all he possibly could to help the man before the emergency responders arrived on scene. However, even with his four years of lifeguard duty at Pacific Islander Club before enlisting in the Air Force, it did not fully prepare him for that day.
“I had previous experience of watching the beach and pool, but this was my first time going out past the reef to save someone,” Blas said. “Next time, I know I have to be more careful with the decisions I make, as I could have become a victim myself. However, I felt that time was of the essence and that he would have drowned if we didn’t go in right away.”
He cautions to anybody who doesn’t feel confident in their swimming abilities to always use a life vest and to become familiar with the water conditions and tides through the National Weather Service.
“Always know which way the water current is pulling prior to water entry,” said Tech. Sgt. Christopher Bunn-Toves, occupational safety NCO in charge. “A way to detect the direction of water flow is by throwing a coconut in the water. Also, it is vital that you know where you are when you participate in water activities in case you have to call for rescue services. By knowing your location, you can accurately direct rescue crews to your exact location.”
Individuals are reminded to have a wingman with them as well as first aid kit or supplies handy when swimming. For any questions regarding water safety or what beaches or coves are safe, contact the wing safety office at 366-3325.