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Asia Dive News : Twenty two Japanese dive students rescued at sea

Twenty-two Japanese SCUBA diving students were rescued off Okinawa Sunday evening and early Monday morning by volunteer rescuers and several local and U.S. military agencies after they were stranded in the East China Sea during foul weather conditions that suddenly swept in the area.

The Japanese Coast Guard, U.S. Air Force's 31st and 33rd Rescue Squadrons with Kadena Air Base's 18th Wing, the Kin Town Fire Department, Marine Corps Bases Japan Fire Department and the Camp Foster Provost Marshall's Office worked together in the 12-hour-long rescue mission.

"It was a great team effort, and everyone involved did a great job," according to Darrin Carlson, assistant fire chief with Marine Corps Bases Japan Fire Department and on-scene incident commander.

The initial response came from a dive group comprised of several U.S. service members and one civilian, who exited the water around 4 p.m. Sunday after a sudden storm swept into the area, making sea conditions extremely dangerous.

According to Chief Warrant Officer 2 Bonifacio T. Cadiz, a dive master, he and other members of his dive group rescued 21 members of the distressed Japanese group.

A remaining member of the Japanese group, Mariko Ota, remained caught in the harsh waves, and three volunteer rescuers jumped in the water to rescue her.

One volunteer, a Japanese SCUBA diving instructor, became lost in the waves and the other two, Cadiz and another SCUBA diving instructor, Chris Gerke, were able to retrieve and place Ota on a nearby rock formation.

According to Cadiz, Ota was slammed into the rocks by a wave and suffered a laceration to her head. After noticing the injury, Gerke swam back to a safe place in order to call for help while Cadiz stayed with Ota to protect her from the waves.

A Japanese student swam out to help Cadiz and Ota by bringing a life jacket.

Cadiz explained that after he put the life jacket on Ota, she was swept back out to sea.

At 5:22 p.m., the Marine Corps Bases Japan Fire Department arrived to give assistance.

At 5:35 p.m., the Japanese Coast Guard rescued Ota and the missing Japanese dive instructor via helicopter.

"The coast guard performed an incredible rescue in itself," Carlson said. "You could see how hard it was to fly so close to the rocks in the high winds."

Cadiz and the other Japanese dive student, who swam out to help, took refuge in a hole in the rock formations to get shelter from the crashing waves and waited there for several hours.

By 8:15 p.m., the Kin Town Fire Department, MCB Camp Foster Provost Marshall's Office and the 31st and 33rd Rescue Squadrons arrived to aid in the rescue effort.

According to Carlson, the rescue squadrons couldn't use their UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter to rescue Cadiz and the Japanese student because the rock formations made it far too dangerous.

The U.S. Air Force pararescuemen teamed-up with the Marine Corps Bases Japan Fire Department and Kin Town Fire Department in order to use their fire crew's rigging and mechanical systems to create a mechanism to rappel down in order to search for the stranded rescuers.

The huge waves prevented the team from rescuing the two stranded divers until early the next morning.

Pararescuemen pulled the Japanese dive student out at 12:45 a.m. and Cadiz at 1:32 a.m.

Ota was released from Nakagami Hospital in Okinawa City at 10 a.m. Monday after being treated for head and eye injuries.

Ota, after only four hours of being released from the hospital, visited Cadiz at The Palms Restaurant on Camp Hansen, so she could personally thank him for risking his life to save hers.

Cadiz is the executive officer of Bulk Fuel Company, 9th Engineer Support Battalion, 3rd Marine Logistics Group.

Source: USMC