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The body of an airman swept out to sea Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022, while snorkeling off northeastern Okinawa has been found.

The body of an airman swept out to sea Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022, while snorkeling off northeastern Okinawa has been found. (Dave Ornauer/Stars and Stripes)

CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — The body of an airman swept out to sea Saturday while snorkeling off northeastern Okinawa was found Wednesday afternoon and identified the following day, according to the Air Force.

The name of the 20-year-old airman, who was assigned to the 18th Logistics Readiness Squadron at Kadena Air Base, is being withheld pending next-of-kin notification, the 18th Wing said in a statement Thursday.

The body was discovered about a half-mile offshore, between Adan and Sosu beaches, a Kunigami fire department spokesman told Stars and Stripes by phone Thursday. Members of the U.S. Air Force alerted the department about the body around 2:50 p.m. Wednesday, he said.

The airman was pronounced dead at 5 p.m., the spokesman said. The body was handed then over to members of the U.S. military, who took it from the scene by helicopter.

The official cause of death was not known Thursday.

The airman was one of six Americans snorkeling on Saturday around an offshore reef near the mouth of the Ie River in Sosu, 18th Wing spokesman Staff Sgt. Kyle Johnson told Stars and Stripes on Monday. Three were pulled away from the group by the current before the waves separated them.

Japan Coast Guard officials dispatched a helicopter from their base in Naha after receiving a distress call at 3:30 p.m., a coast guard spokesman said Sunday.

A pair of Japanese swimmers went after the three service members using surfboards and floats, the spokesman said. A 20-year-old man and a 19-year-old woman, both assigned to Kadena, were rescued by the Japanese swimmers.

The two Americans and two Japanese were plucked from the sea by the coast guard helicopter at 4:50 p.m., the spokesman said. A search for the missing airman began immediately.

The four who were rescued suffered no major injuries, the spokesman said. It’s customary in Japan for some government officials to speak to the media on condition of anonymity.

The two Americans were taken to U.S. Naval Hospital Okinawa at Camp Foster, where they were medically cleared and released, the 18th Wing said Monday.

An extensive five-day search was carried out by the U.S. military, Japan’s 11th Regional Coast Guard, Kunigami fire department and local police.

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Matthew M. Burke has been reporting from Okinawa for Stars and Stripes since 2014. The Massachusetts native and UMass Amherst alumnus previously covered Sasebo Naval Base and Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, for the newspaper. His work has also appeared in the Boston Globe, Cape Cod Times and other publications.
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Keishi Koja is an Okinawa-based reporter/translator who joined Stars and Stripes in August 2022. He studied International Communication at the University of Okinawa and previously worked in education.

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