Water Rescues: 1982 & 2012

For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water – 1 Peter 3:18-20

Over the weekend, the Italian cruise liner Costa Concordia ran aground just off of Giglio, Italy. There were over 4000 people on board, with 5 now confirmed dead and 17 unaccounted for. As you can imagine in the aftermath of such an accident, the news stories are all over the place and the narrative of what actually happened is forming slowly. The short version is this: the ship ran into a reef (or sand bar?) and began listing; the crew was less-than-organized about the rescue; some of the lifeboats could not be lowered (or just plain were not lowered); and more than a few people jumped overboard to make a swim for it. Amidst all of that – only 22 are dead or unaccounted for.

When I see stories like this I often envision what I would do in such a circumstance. Typically I’m asking myself how I would manage getting my wife and three kids off the boat to safety. (With the busyness of life I rarely get to exercise that much anymore. But, in a moment of honesty and openness, I will admit that my motivation for exercising – what gives me focus when I’ve been sedentary for too long – is whether or not I’d be able to get my three boys to safety in just such an emergency.)

The wreck comes almost 30 years to the day after Air Florida flight 90 crashed into the 14th street bridge in Washington D.C. (wikipedia page here). I was seven years old at the time, but I still remember the news broadcasts of the accident and the displays of heroism. (This was, of course, before the Web and Youtube, so I couldn’t just get footage on demand … I had to actually watch the news and wait.)

The first rescue attempt was apparently a makeshift rope constructed by the bystanders and tied around the waist of Roger Olian, another commuter near the bridge. He then attempted to swim to the passengers to grab one to be pulled to safety. When he was almost there, a park police helicopter showed up, and attempted to rescue Olian first. At this, Olian was pulled back to shore so the helicopter crew would go after the survivors.

They began pulling the six survivors to the shore one-by-one with a life preserver. As they did, one of the survivors, Arland Williams Jr., continually passed the life preserver on to the next person, intending to go last. He would succumb to the ice-cold waters before they got back to him on the last run.

As the helicopter crew was pulling Priscilla Tirado to safety, she was unable to hold on to the life preserver (going into shock) and she began to sink into the river. At this, another bystander, Lenny Skutnik, jumped into the river after her, swam 30 feet in the icy water, and was able to drag her to shore.

It is the video of Skutnik that I most remember from when I was seven (see video clip shortly). I’m reminded now of the Mighty Mighty Bosstones line: “I’m not a coward, I’ve just never been tested – I like to think that if I was I would pass.” Well done Lenny, you passed the test.

I also see the result from the Priscilla Tirado side. If you’re stuck in an untenable situation, the freezing waters are sending you into shock, you can barely breathe – fight to the last, and keep your head above water – you never know when Lenny Skutnik might be diving in after you.




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