Here's the latest edition of the Not-So-Funnies. This time we focus on worst-case scenarios at oceans, lakes and streams. You'd be hard put as a Sailor or Marine to avoid being around open water, and as a result, you'd think precautions would be second nature. But sometimes people are overly confident and underestimate the risk. Or they've had a few beers and aren't thinking clearly. Maybe peer pressure proves destructive. Or any of a dozen other lethal reasons. What follows is what can happen next.
Caught in the rip current
Three lance corporals were on liberty. Around noon, they left their barracks room and headed over to a beach. A couple hours later, two entered the water and were caught in a rip current. The third Marine heard them calling for help. He found a life jacket and swam out to try to rescue them. He helped one ashore, but when he returned for the other Marine, he couldn't find him. Someone called 911, and an emergency-services unit responded. The Coast Guard launched a search, along with local police and fire department personnel, and a Navy helicopter. The lance corporal's body washed ashore at approximately 9:50 p.m.
Wad in the water
After midnight on a day in January, a storekeeper second class got into a fight with his wife on a bridge in Florida. The wife's purse got thrown into the water. The Sailor waded out into the 59-degree water to try to retrieve it. He drowned. He was "unfamiliar with Florida waterways and the accumulation of soft vegetation which prevents standing in even shallow water," according to the report. The purse was found under 9 feet of water.
Red flag warning
In April, a 22-year-old airman recruit was on liberty with some friends at a beach on the Gulf Coast of Florida. They swam and drank an unknown amount of alcohol. The Sailor was last seen around midnight, swimming. The local county had issued a red flag on the beach due to strong currents and waves. Presumably, the warning flags might have been hard to see at night, but the rough water should have been evident. The E-2's body was never found.
It may be too far
Some Marines were taking part in a service-sponsored liberty trip to a national park overseas. The park had some waterfalls and pools that were popular local swimming spots. After lunch, two of the Marines got into a pool, intending to swim approximately 125 meters to join a group of Marines on the far shore. Both were a bit worried about the distance, and for one of them, rightly so. He held the minimum swimming qualification required for Marines, and that qualification expired seven months earlier. However, they talked themselves into it based on the fact that they were in good shape and the others had made it. After swimming about a third of the way, the Marine began to slow down and got separated from his partner. He began to struggle and call for help. Marines and civilians started to swim toward him to help; the partner was too tired and too far away. Before the first rescuer could reach the Marine, he had submerged. Hampered by visibility of just 3 to 5 feet in the water, rescuers found the Marine's body on a shelf about 15 feet below the surface, between 8 and 12 minutes later. CPR proved futile.
One evening in May, at an overseas base, an E-3 had the urge to go swimming at a recreational beach on base. The weather was apparently iffy. The base was under typhoon condition 3, which means: "destructive sustained winds of 50 knots or greater expected within 48 hours." As far as the report goes, the actual water conditions are vague. The report indicates "yes" to "influenced by environment," but it goes on to show that the wind direction was unknown. Assuming typhoons are like hurricanes, outer bands of wind and rain arrive way before the actual storm. The report indicates that someone asked the E-3 if he was OK. He replied in the affirmative, "I'm a good swimmer." However, while swimming back to shore some time later, he submerged. He resurfaced and called for help. An E-6 responded but couldn't get there in time. The E-3 went under a second time and didn't come back up.
From fiscal year 2007 through fiscal year 2011, 42 Sailors and Marines drowned in off-duty mishaps. Of these, 20 were E-3s and E-4s, and 24 of the mishaps occurred from May through August. There's no real pattern to the activities that led to disaster. Five of the victims were boating, two others were kayaking and two were whitewater rafting. Three were overcome by rip currents at a beach. Three were very drunk, one jumped off a bridge, another went swimming at midnight. Two were snorkeling, and two others were recreational diving, one in a cave. For the victims, all of the mishaps were unexpected. For the rest of us, in retrospect, most of the mishaps could have easily been foreseen and just as easily prevented.
Courtesy of Naval Safety Center.