Japan Coast Guard rescues another US servicemember swept out to sea on Okinawa
By AYA ICHIHASHI | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 15, 2019
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — For the second time in a month, a Japanese coast guard helicopter rescued a U.S. servicemember swept to sea Sunday at a popular but often dangerous swimming and diving spot known as Mermaid Grotto.
Three U.S. servicemembers were pulled away from shore by a rip tide, according to a 2:20 p.m. emergency call by another servicemember, said Takeru Kamisato, a spokesman for Japan’s 11th Regional Coast Guard in Naha.
“Two made it back on their own, but one got left behind,” he said.
A helicopter rescued the servicemember and took him to the coast guard base station in Naha.
“The servicemember wasn’t hurt,” Kamisato said. He did not identify the three servicemembers. A U.S. military spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for further information.
A high-wave warning was in effect across the Okinawa main island, with strong southwest winds reaching close to 21 knots on Sunday.
Mermaid Grotto, also known as Apogama, seems like a family-friendly beach with a cave and tide pool at low-tide; however, it gets rough quickly when the wind shifts to the north or west, and a rip current can occur when the tide is going out or coming in.
A sign posted at the entrance to Apogama, written in English and Japanese, warns visitors of the hazardous and unpredictable water conditions and recommends water-related activities be conducted at a safer location of the island.
On June 15, a group of four servicemembers was swept out to sea at the same site. A Marine in the group — rescued by a Japanese coast guard helicopter — suffered minor injuries.
In March, a Japanese diver died near Mermaid Grotto. A U.S. sailor died in a diving mishap there in 2016.