Japan Coast Guard Rescues Another US Service Member Swept Out to Sea on Okinawa

This aerial June 2016 photo shows Henoko of Nago city, Okinawa prefecture, Japan, where the Japanese government plans to relocate a U.S. air base from one area of Okinawa’s main island to another. (Hiroko Harima/Kyodo News via AP)
This aerial June 2016 photo shows Henoko of Nago city, Okinawa prefecture, Japan, where the Japanese government plans to relocate a U.S. air base from one area of Okinawa’s main island to another. (Hiroko Harima/Kyodo News via AP)

CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa -- For the second time in a month, a Japanese coast guard helicopter rescued a U.S. service member swept to sea Sunday at a popular but often dangerous swimming and diving spot known as Mermaid Grotto.

Three U.S. service members were pulled away from shore by a rip tide, according to a 2:20 p.m. emergency call by another service member, said Takeru Kamisato, a spokesman for Japan's 11th Regional Coast Guard in Naha.

"Two made it back on their own, but one got left behind," he said.

A helicopter rescued the service member and took him to the coast guard base station in Naha.

"The service member wasn't hurt," Kamisato said. He did not identify the three service members. A U.S. military spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for further information.

A high-wave warning was in effect across the Okinawa main island, with strong southwest winds reaching close to 21 knots on Sunday.

Mermaid Grotto, also known as Apogama, seems like a family-friendly beach with a cave and tide pool at low-tide; however, it gets rough quickly when the wind shifts to the north or west, and a rip current can occur when the tide is going out or coming in.

A sign posted at the entrance to Apogama, written in English and Japanese, warns visitors of the hazardous and unpredictable water conditions and recommends water-related activities be conducted at a safer location of the island.

On June 15, a group of four service members was swept out to sea at the same site. A Marine in the group -- rescued by a Japanese coast guard helicopter -- suffered minor injuries.

In March, a Japanese diver died near Mermaid Grotto. A U.S. sailor died in a diving mishap there in 2016.

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