A man bobs alone in storm-tossed waters, exhausted, struggling to keep his head above the waves. The surface is a froth of wind and rain, and waves break over him. Thunder splits the air, and below it, a deeper sound: the staccato thud of chopper blades. A roaring rotor flattens the water, spraying droplets at his face that sting like BBs. He shouts weakly for help. A U.S. Coast Guard airman stands in an open door 15 feet above the waves, in wetsuit, fins, snorkel, and rescue harness. He plunges in and strikes out toward the drowning man, grabbing him from behind and towing him in a cross-chest carry, kicking hard with his fins.
Just then, the man panics. He flails around, knocking off his rescuer’s mask and wrapping his head in a bear hug, trying desperately to climb out of the water. Both men vanish below the waves. After several seconds, the rescue swimmer surfaces, looking about frantically, his mask and snorkel gone. He’s broken free, but he’s lost his victim. A piercing whistle blows, and the howling wind and rain stop as if on cue. At the push of a button, the thunder stops, the waves slosh down to stillness, and the house lights come up on the U.S. Coast Guard’s cavernous new $30 million Rescue Swimmer Training Facility, in Elizabeth City, North Carolina. ... [continue reading here]