Two Air Force special operations pararescuemen who saved a fisherman who was swept out to sea near Okinawa were honored on Thursday by local Japanese firefighters for their heroic effort.
A fisherman in his 30s lost his balance and fell into the sea around 11:20 a.m. on Sept. 24, Stars and Stripes reported. He was drifting out to sea when he was rescued about 30 minutes later by two U.S. Air Force personnel from the 31st Rescue Squadron at the island’s Kadena Air Base.
Lt. Col. Matthew Schlittler, 38, and Senior Airman Shane Pentkowski, 27, were training in a 30-foot boat around noon when they spotted the man about 700 feet from the Cape Zanpa Lighthouse, a popular tourist attraction.
Pentkowski said the pair sped to reach the man and saw him waving as they approached. He was wearing a life vest during the incident and was not injured, according to Stars and Stripes. Petkowski said they gave the man a blanket.
Japanese emergency responders were also alerted to the scene. The Nirai Fire Department sent a boat, two jet skis, ambulances and a command vehicle, according to a spokesman. Japan’s Coast Guard and Okinawa law enforcement responded, as well.
But the Americans already on the water got there first. Nirai Fire Chief Keiichi Teruya awarded the Air Force troops a certificate of appreciation during a ceremony at the Kadena city firehouse on Thursday.
“The man you rescued has family, and this rescue means a lot for the family for the rest of their lives,” Teruya said during the ceremony. “It is truly a wonderful thing.”
Schlittler said the action was just another part of the job. Pararescuemen, also known as PJs, are special operators trained by the Air Force to rescue military personnel from hostile areas and in dangerous conditions.
“It’s why we do what we do,” he said. “Our mission is to save lives and as the commander of the squadron it makes me happy to see that the team is ready to do the job at any time.”