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Diver's experiences teaches lesson in water safety

  • Published
  • By The Public Affairs Office
  • 36th Wing
At 15 feet below the surface, a contracting officer was surprised when someone grabbed his arm and began pointing to the surface: a swimmer needed help.
According to Capt. Kris Pondo, from the 36th Contracting Squadron, a group of Sailors who were snorkeling near Gun beach had swam past the reef while the captain and his dive partner were exploring the ocean below. He said he and his partner were nearing a gap in the reef under water while returning to shore when one of the Sailors dove down to get his attention. 

Fortunate for the Sailors, good visibility under the ocean allowed them to see the two scuba divers passing underneath, he said. 

After surfacing, the Sailor explained that one of the swimmers in their group couldn't return to shore because of the strong currents and constant waves. 

"The swimmer who had grabbed me said that they had made many attempts to get his friend back to shore," said Captain Pondo, who has more than 55 dives and is two courses from away from earning his master scuba diver rating.  "He asked if there was anything I could do to help." 

Since the divers had oxygen tanks, buoyancy control devices, masks, snorkels and swim fins, the Sailors knew the divers were better equipped to help. 

Captain Pondo said he signaled for his dive buddy, a less experienced diver, to descend and return to shore underwater while he assisted the tired swimmer. He did this because the currents under water aren't nearly as strong as they are on the surface and this would make for an easier exit. 

He said, the distressed swimmer, exhausted from fighting the current, was slumped over with his head in the water using a flotation technique that sailors are taught to conserve energy. 

"He was obviously fatigued from the past attempts to make it back," said Captain Pondo. With his BCD inflated, the captain began towing the Sailor towards the reef - towards shore. 

"After three to four minutes of hard swimming against the strongest current I have ever felt, I was finally able to reach out and grab the side of the exit point," he said. 

The exit point is a cut in the reef that divers use to swim to and from the open ocean. 

"I held onto the reef while waves crashed down on me. I popped the snorkel out of my mouth and yelled to the Sailor, 'You need to get off of me, grab the reef and stand up,'" said Captain Pondo. 

The Sailor was so exhausted, he couldn't respond. 

"It would have been hard to merely hold myself onto the reef under those conditions, but I was on holding on for two people," said the captain. 

"As one of the snorkelers from the group attempted to pull the fatigued snorkeler off of me and onto the reef, I lost my grip," he said. The two were swept from the reef. 

Tired from his first attempt to help the Sailor, the captain said he decided to abandon the exit point and swim directly for the reef. A decision he avoided earlier because he wanted to reduce the risk of injury of an over-the-reef exit. 

After another struggle against the current, he towed the Sailor to the reef and helped him climb on top. He said he used a swell to help get on top of the reef. 

Lying on top of the reef, the exhausted swimmers waited for help from the other three Sailors. 

"As I walked towards the shore, I looked up at the beach where an ambulance was pulling in with a beach patrol car. I glanced down and realized my legs where oozing blood. The experience had given me such an adrenaline rush that I failed to realize how bad I was hurt from being tossed around on the reef," he said. 

He said he's never felt better taking off his scuba gear. 

"Although I am very experienced with diving Gun Beach, the conditions were rough even as I began my dive," he said. 

For the swimmers, the conditions were even worse. By being out there, the swimmers not only endangered themselves the also put Captain Pondo's life at risk. 

"However, the fact remains that I did go out against my better judgment that day as the conditions were even a little rough for diving, he said. "But, I think back on it now and realize that if I hadn't gone out, there may have been one less Sailor here on Guam." 

Master Sgt. Jeff Oyer, 36th Wing ground safety superintendent, said people can avoid putting themselves into the exhausted Sailor's position by learning the conditions and hazards of the local beaches before entering the water. 

"The water here is warm in inviting," he said. "But the possibility of being swept beyond the reef is fairly strong." 

A way to reduce the risk of being swept out to the open water is to swim within designated safety areas such as those at Tarague Beach, Gab Gab, or hotel row, said Sergeant Oyer. When visiting beaches with no designated safety area, swimmers should become familiar with the hazards before entering the water, he added.

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