LANGLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Va., — In two recent examples of vigilance, Air Combat Command Airmen have discovered that drowning isn’t always accompanied with shouts and thrashing. Victims sometimes slip silently beneath the water, or struggle to the point of exhaustion without raising an alarm.
In one recent incident, an Office of Special Investigations agent, trained by the Air Force to see what others don’t, saved a drowning child who was motionless underwater. An Airman at the beach near Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., saved a man who was suspected of mixing alcohol with water sports.
“I got up and started walking towards the edge of the pool,” said Special Agent Christopher Martin, assigned to Davis-Monthan AFB, who was at a pool in Marana, Ariz. “I walked probably 35-40 meters when I realized that it was a child, a brother of one of my son’s friends. I thought to myself, ‘This kid is just holding his breath, playing with his friends,’ because there were a couple of kids about 10-15 feet from him.”
He’d been under water for approximately four minutes before anyone noticed what had happened.
Experts in the field of drowning, recently published in the U.S. Coast Guard’s On Scene magazine, say that victims can rarely call for help. Their instinctive response is to use the arms to stay afloat, rather than signal. They remain vertical in the water, and struggle to get their mouths above the water’s surface.
Males and children are most at risk of drowning, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Alcohol use is also cited as a significant factor, as was discovered by a Tyndall Airman recently.
“I noticed a guy floating out to sea caught in a rip current, while his family members yelled for help from the beach,” said Technical Sgt. Timothy Martin, 325th Training Support Squadron quality assessment evaluator. “I saw he was struggling to stay afloat so I ran over to another family that had a circle ring that I knew would keep me and him up, and I asked to take it to help the man and took off…When I got to him, I grabbed his hand and wrapped it around the tube. He was very fatigued, and he almost immediately shut down.”
Both victims are reportedly fully recovered, but the CDC says that more than 50 percent of drowning victims treated in emergency rooms require hospitalization. Brain damage and other long-term impacts are common.
The CDC has further tips on natural and man-made water recreation area risks. Each present unique threats.