Police: No sign of Marine missing in Okinawa seas
Man was snorkeling despite ban on swimming
By NATASHA LEE AND CHIYOMI SUMIDA | STARS AND STRIPES Published: November 12, 2008
ONNA, Okinawa — The Japan Coast Guard and U.S. military continued to search Monday for a 29-year-old Marine reported missing Sunday while snorkeling near Maeda Point off the western coast of Okinawa.
He was snorkeling with a 20-year-old Marine when he was swept away by strong waves, said a spokesman for the Okinawa Prefectural Police in Uruma.
The younger Marine was able to swim back to shore and alerted a nearby man who called Okinawa police around 2 p.m., military and Japanese authorities said Monday.
The Marine declined medical treatment and was later released to a unit representative, said Marine spokesman 1st Lt. Adrian Rankine-Galloway.
In an e-mail Monday to Stars and Stripes, Rankine-Galloway said the two Marines could not be identified due to privacy and next-of-kin notification procedures, though Okinawa police released their ages.
A swim fin belonging to the younger Marine was found near the adjacent fishing port, but nothing connected to the missing Marine has been found, said a rescue worker with the Kin Fire Department.
Okinawa police, the Kin Fire Department, the Japan Coast Guard, and military police and Marine Corps firefighters searched until sundown Sunday, Rankine-Galloway said.
Searchers, including member of the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, resumed efforts Monday at 7 a.m.
Authorities said water conditions at the popular area in Onna Village were so dangerous Sunday afternoon that all swimming activities had been banned.
The Okinawa Meteorological Observatory reported rain, heavy winds and rough waves.
Ropes blocked a steep stairway leading to the ocean there Monday.
But tourists and avid divers often go to a nearby cove on the other side of the cliffs, which make up Maeda Point, to gain access to the water, an official from the Maeda Point administration office said.
With waters calmer Monday morning, Japanese tourists were snorkeling and scuba diving as a Japan Coast Guard helicopter circled overhead.
A Japan Coast Guard ship was miles off shore.
Sunday’s incident was the fourth this year — the first involving an American — at Onna Village, according to Okinawa police.
Last year 12 people, including a 34-year-old Marine, drowned in waters off Okinawa, according to Okinawa and Marine Corps statistics.
Nineteen servicemembers have drowned off Okinawa since 2000, according to the Marine Corps Bases Installation Safety office.
Safety officials say accidents are more likely to occur when snorkeling than scuba diving because swimmers are less likely to be skilled snorkelers.
Safety officials suggest swimmers take classes to freshen up their skills, never swim alone, don’t overestimate their swimming abilities and pay attention to ocean conditions.