In keeping with our mission, Water Emergency Training presents survivor stories and the lessons learned to be a strong voice for how to stay safe in the water. Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org/ if you would like to share your story of survival, water emergency experience, or knowledge.
A honeymoon in Hawaii; golden sunsets, beautiful blue waters, scented breezes, what could possibly be hazardous in such an inviting paradise? Unfortunately, the Hawaiian Islands despite their enticing beauty can be deadly for locals and tourists alike. In 2014, my old friend JT Moye and his wife Debbie were faced with a dire water emergency while on their honeymoon on the island of Maui that almost cost JT his life.
JT is someone who is in excellent physical shape, both he and his wife, Debbie, know how to swim, and they were not engaging in activity that appeared to be dangerous or foolhardy.
According to JT, he and his wife were enjoying an ideal honeymoon, relaxing and taking in the sites. They had decided to go on a snorkeling adventure not far from their hotel in the inviting waters of Napili Bay. (I have actually been to this beach myself, and it is not overly hazardous. In light of the fact that the infamous blowhole at Nakelele is just a short drive up the coast and is a very dangerous spot. Napili doesn’t have overt postings or warnings about any hazardous conditions.)
“We were snorkeling in the bay, on our own, not with a group. So it was just the two of us, but there were people around so we felt safe,” JT recalls.
In JT’s case, pure exhaustion was the main culprit in his drowning.
“We had been in the water about 45 minutes, I was starting to get tired, but not overly so. We were getting ready to go in. Debbie was ahead of me. Then my snorkel got filled with water and I just couldn’t clear it,” JT says.
In an attempt to clear the device JT had to tread water and soon was exhausted from the effort of staying afloat and trying to breathe.
“I knew I couldn’t panic, so I tried to just lay on my back and calm myself, but the waves washed over me into my nose and mouth and after that I went under and blacked out,” says JT.
Thankfully Debbie recognized his distressed and swam back and pulled JT’s airway above the surface. She then had the arduous task of getting an unconscious person out of the water and onto a safe surface. JT recalls, “She got me to some rocks, but we were still very far out. Other people then came to help with jet skis and surfboards while Debbie called 911.”
JT remained unconscious for most of the ordeal and only realized what had happened when he regained consciousness the next day.
Like many drownings, JT was hospitalized for several days, he was released, but had to be readmitted for another three days after developing pneumonia. Though not the usual outcome after a water emergency, problems such as pneumonia can develop after a drowning incident. Anyone with unusual symptoms after a drowning incident, such as mental confusion, frothing around the mouth or nose, or coughing should seek medical attention immediately.
According to JT, exhaustion was the main factor in his incident, “I was just exhausted from trying to fix the snorkel and treading water. It all just built up very quickly,”
JT’s incident highlights the importance of not only knowing the waters in which you recreate but making sure you have the energy and stamina not just to get to a spot in the water but to get back.
JT says, “I am really lucky. Debbie saved me, Debbie was a girl scout! I didn’t panic and she didn’t panic and that’s what I think saved me. We have both developed a real respect for the ocean. I am very, very grateful that we came back together. We heard tons of horror stories about couples on vacation, families on vacation that had members that didn’t come back. We are both really grateful.”
It only takes seconds for a water emergency to arise and JT’s experience highlights this. A beautiful day can turn tragic in a matter of seconds and a little forethought about conditions, currents, and local knowledge can be a life saver.
JT says he learned several valuable lessons that day, “Always respect the ocean, and always respect the skills of others. It takes skills to surf and snorkel and swim, you just can’t do it without practice and training.”
JT says that the main lesson learned is to take a course or to go with a group or someone with local experience when entering the water. Whether snorkeling, kayaking, SUP-ing, surfing, or any water activity, if you are unfamiliar with the area make sure you know before you go. A small bit of knowledge can go a very long way to helping keep you safe whether on the water or an outdoor activity.
JT and Debbie are all smiles after their harrowing ordeal on a quiet Hawaiian beach. Their experience could have been a tragic one and is a great lesson for anyone swimming or involved in water activities at an unfamiliar spot.