Body found on Okinawa is Kadena airman who went missing while surfing

The Japan Coast Guard used an MH-915 helicopter, a 100-foot boat and two small vessels in its search for an Okinawa-based U.S. airman who went missing while surfing on Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020.


By MATTHEW M. BURKE | Stars and Stripes | Published: November 28, 2020

CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa – The body of a missing U.S. airman last seen Sunday surfing near Okinawa's Cape Hedo has been found, Air Force officials announced Saturday.

The unnamed 21-year-old, assigned to Kadena Air Base, was discovered sometime Friday in the vicinity of Adan Beach in the Kunigami district, where he was last seen, Kadena's 18th Wing said in a statement emailed to Stars and Stripes on Saturday afternoon. The body had been identified that morning.

The exact cause of death is unknown and the incident is under investigation, the statement said. 

"We are deeply saddened by the loss of one of our valued Team Kadena members," 18th Wing commander Air Force Brig. Gen. Joel Carey said in the statement. "I want to extend our sincerest condolences to the member’s family, teammates and friends."

No further details were available Saturday. The airman's name is being withheld until 24 hours after next of kin have been notified, the statement said.

The airman was last seen shortly before 9:10 a.m. on Nov. 22 by a surfing companion, a spokesman with the Japan Coast Guard’s Nakagusuku Office said Monday. The airman was clinging to his surfboard about 300 yards offshore. He appeared unable to return to shore and was drifting farther out to sea.

The companion surmised his partner may have been exhausted and unable to swim back to shore, the coast guard spokesman said.

The companion called base security forces, which in turn called Japan Coast Guard headquarters in Naha, the spokesman said. Boats were dispatched to the area immediately, but darkness eventually hampered search-and-rescue efforts.

The airman wasn't wearing a flotation device at the time, the spokesman said.

Airmen from the 31st and 33rd rescue squadrons searched through the night and into Monday, according to a wing statement Monday.

The coast guard resumed the search Monday morning with a 100-foot boat, two smaller craft and an MH-915 helicopter from Naha Air Base.

A targeted search for the missing airman was called off as early as Monday, the coast guard spokesman said. The airman’s surfboard washed ashore not long after he was last seen.

Twitter: @MatthewMBurke1