It was a beautiful day, the water was warm, the sun was shining, a truly ideal day for some fun at the beach. The resort we were staying at had its own private beach area with all the amenities: personal cabanas, umbrellas, snorkeling gear, and inflatable rafts. For some reason there were very few sun worshippers that afternoon, but a few other vacationers, along with my wife and I, were enjoying the perfect afternoon in the water. Along the short stretch of water, there were signs indicating there were no lifeguards on duty. Having experienced the strong under currents that Hawaiian waters have, my wife and I stayed close to the beach and its shallow ends. Even on the inflatable rafts, we stayed close to shore.
Other folks seemed to want to venture out further into the ocean. This one particular couple was having a jousting contest with floating noodles while on inflatable rafts. It was obvious they both had limited swimming abilities when one of them fell in and they barely made it back onto the raft. After their joust, the husband swam back to shore leaving his partner sunning on the raft. After some time, my wife noticed that his wife was floating out a little farther and that her partner was nowhere nearby. Though it happened slowly, the woman on the raft eventually realized that she was floating away from shore. We saw a look of panic on her face as she fell into the water. Did I mention that there were no lifeguards on duty? I may not be the greatest swimmer in the world, but I swam out to her as fast as I could while my wife went to look for help. As I was swimming to get her, it struck me that I had a friend who died trying to save her sister in a swimming pool many years back. I thought about what my swimming teacher said about trying to save someone in trouble in the water. The victim is in a panic mode and will hold on to anything that will float. They will crawl on top of a rescuer and pull them under not realizing what they are doing.
So when I finally got to her, I had decided to keep the floating raft between the girl and myself to avoid her from grabbing onto me. If she stayed calm, she would have had no problem getting back on the raft and paddling back to the beach. But no. It took a while, but as I steadied the raft and talked to her, she eventually calmed down enough and got back on the raft. As she held the sides, I towed her back in with the line attached to raft. It was slower and much more difficult coming back in, but we finally made it back to the beach. Her husband was waiting and thankful. It was not Baywatch material but hey, whatever it takes. It's good to know that all those lessons at the YMCA finally came in handy.
The morals of this story are to "know what your limitations are" and that safety should be a priority even on a vacation. The presence of a flotation device often gives inexperienced swimmers a false sense of security. In this case, the couple took for granted that their raft was a save-all for ocean swimming, but didn't realize that the raft would become useless when they began to panic. The couple could have improved their situation by using ORM to analyze the risks; no lifeguards on duty, strong underwater currents, and admit the fact that they were poor swimmers. They could have then minimized those risks by deciding to wear personal flotation devices, staying near shore and together, and then actually following through with that plan.
Don't allow a simple case of neglect or assumption ruin a time meant for fun and laughter by letting your safety awareness take a vacation while you're on vacation.
By TSgt Giovanni Abarintos, Nellis AFB, Nev.
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|Title Annotation:||a personal narrative of vacation accident|
|Date:||Dec 1, 2004|
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