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CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — After a recent string of deaths, including the weekend drowning of a Marine, base officials and dive enthusiasts are urging people to show caution in the water.

On Saturday, Gunnery Sgt. Chad Love, 34, of Clarksville, Tenn., assigned to Combat Assault Battalion, 3rd Marine Division, drowned while diving near Manza Point. According to Ishikawa police, Love and his dive partner lost sight of each other while they were returning to a pier. When his partner found a dive tank in the water, he returned to Love and found him unconscious on the sea floor.

Despite efforts to resuscitate Love, he was pronounced dead at 1:59 p.m. at an Okinawa city hospital. Police said they believe Love surfaced into a wave that sent him crashing into a reef. He was reportedly covered with scratches and bruises.

The same day Love drowned, a 20-year-old student from the Japanese mainland drowned near the same area. Earlier this month, two elderly fishermen washed up separately upon Cape Hedo’s shores in northwest Okinawa and Nanjo City in the southeast.

Ed Dunn, a diving instructor at the Kadena Marina with about 30 years of experience, said most people who get into water accidents do so simply because they get in over their heads. He said he didn’t know Love, but understands conditions at Manza Point were dicey on Saturday.

“It can be very treacherous, and the day the gunny went to dive wasn’t the best,” he said. “I don’t know the official investigation, but from what I’m hearing, they shouldn’t have been there in the first place.”

Despite Love’s death, safety officials say the trend for drowning deaths involving U.S. military personnel on Okinawa is down. Since 2000, 19 military personnel have drowned.

Since a water-safety program was initiated in 2004, water-related deaths have dropped from an average of almost four a year to less than one. In 2005, there were no drowning deaths; in 2006 an airman drowned.

Saturday’s death is the only drowning death involving a servicemember this year. Love is the only Marine to die in Okinawan waters in more than two years.

Gunnery Sgt. Chuck Albrecht, a spokesman for the base, said that despite the reductions in fatalities, Love’s death is a tragedy.

“One is one too many,” he said.

Shawn Curtis, an occupational safety and health specialist with the Marine Corps on Okinawa, agreed that most water fatalities happen when people get in over their heads and panic.

“Folks have put themselves in situations they weren’t prepared for,” he said.

Preventing the deaths, Curtis said, is about getting information from people in the know. There are numerous Web sites and webcams that give timely advice on weather and sea conditions

The best place to get advice, Curtis said, is from dive shops immediately before diving, because conditions change on the island so rapidly and can be different from one dive site to the next. The divers manning the shops he said, have the knowledge and experience to know what places are safe.

“All the people there are paid to be experts,” he said.

When a diver gets to a site, Curtis said, he recommends what is known as the 10-second rule — the principle being that if it takes more than 10 seconds to decide if the water is safe to go into, you shouldn’t go in.

Part of the problem about diving and safety, Curtis said, is the money involved.

“And then they go to the location and think: ‘I’ve spent the time, paid for the gear, so I’m going anyway.’ But there’s always another day to dive.”

Stars and Stripes reporter Hana Kusumoto contributed to this report.

Water-safety tips

Shawn Curtis, an occupational safety and health specialist on Okinawa, offers the following water-safety tips:

Know your abilities and stay within them.Never go into the water alone.Swim only where lifeguards are.Always enter the water feet first in unclear waters.Stay within an arm’s length of children in the water.Make informed decisions — check local weather forecasts and sea conditions.Don’t mix alcohol with water sports — 50 percent of stateside water-related fatalities involve alcohol.In the event of a water emergency, people should call “118,” a direct line to the Japanese Coast Guard. They will ask local boats to assist and will notify base emergency personnel. Someone who can speak English will always be available.

Source: Marine Corps Bases Japan Safety Office

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