Navy Divers, Best Friends Hero Up
by U.S. Navy Kimberly Menzies
January 11, 2020
Feeling your heart beating hard, you tell yourself to just remember your training. Taking in a deep breath, you dive below the water’s surface. You cannot see, yet you know you must not miss anyone. Seconds stretch into minutes in your mind.
You reach your hand out, your fingers brush against a familiar hand. Together you repeat this memorized movement.
As you drag your heavy body from the water, you see all you pulled from the murky depths of the pond.
Water dripping into your eyes, you know that you have done all that could be done. There is no doubt that you “heroed up” when it was needed most.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Travis L. Jones and Petty Officer 3rd Class William C. Trainer, U.S. Navy divers with Trident Refit Facility (TRIREFFAC) at Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, were awarded Navy Commendation Medals on October 31, 2019 for rescuing an unconscious civilian from a submerged vehicle.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Travis L. Jones and Petty Officer 3rd Class William C. Trainer, U.S. Navy divers with Trident Refit Facility (TRIREFFAC) at Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, were awarded Navy Commendation Medals on October 31, 2019, for rescuing an unconscious civilian from a submerged vehicle. U.S. Navy photo by Kimberly Menzies)
The best friends were in Tacoma, Wash., to attend a diver conference in May when their lost luggage, and perhaps fate, contributed to a live saving incident.
“We had to drive back to the airport to pick up our luggage that the airline had lost,” recalled Jones, a native of Dallas. “We had decided not to take the ferry because it would take longer even though it would have been shorter distance.”
Trainer, a Seattle native, then described how they saw a vehicle lose control, land in the retention pond and immediately began sinking. By the time they reached the vehicle is was already submerged, Trainer said.
“A man had left the highway at a high rate of speed and landed in a retention pond near a freeway interchange off the roadways,” said Jeff Chandler, the B-3B Battalion Chief with the Tacoma Fire Department and prior TRF Sailor.
Knowing the risk of entering the water without thermal protection, Jones and Trainer breached the retention pond to search for and rescue any occupants of the vehicle.
“When we got to the vehicle, we saw that the driver was unconscious,” said Jones. “We tried the car doors on the driver’s side but they wouldn’t open.”
The damage to the vehicle caused the driver’s door to become warped and unable to be opened. The divers tried the passenger-side doors with no success.
Knowing that time was not in their favor, Jones smashed the passenger side window, unclipped the man’s seat belt and pulled him from the vehicle.
“We swam him to shore and were met by a couple of off-duty nurses who had also seen the car leave the road,” said Trainer. “They took over care for the man and we went back to the vehicle to search for any other possible passengers.”
Trainer and Jones returned to the water multiple times to search the vehicle.
“We didn’t know if there was anyone else in the car with him, but we knew that if there was, we needed to find them quickly,” Jones said.
The divers made quick progress with the remaining dives.
“To give you an idea of how fast [the] divers went to work,” said Chandler, “The call was dispatched at 18:02:29 and when I arrived less than a minute and a half after the initial dispatch (18:03:53) the victim was already removed from the car, placed on the edge in the care of a passing nurse, and these two Navy divers were continuing to search the submerged car for additional victims.”
Fortunately, they found no other passengers in the car.
The divers relied on their training, determined that they would not missed anyone.
“When searching in low visibility, you search by feel,” said Jones. “We would reach out until we felt the other’s hand confirming we had felt through that area. We would move and repeat.”
“It’s common for us to be diving in water with little to no visibility,” said Trainer. “We definitely relied on our training and experience to search the car.”
Both Sailors remained on the scene and provided their accounts to local law enforcement officials.
“Washington State Patrol asked them to stay and make written statements,” explained Chandler. “They remained on the scene…soaking wet, without a single complaint.”
Chandler, proud of the Sailors actions, reached out to their leadership to personally acknowledge their heroic deeds.
“Actions like theirs are an unusual occurrence,” Chandler shared. “It’s not often people stop, let alone stop AND have skills they are willing to use.”
“I am very proud of Jones and Trainer,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Stephen Schilz, a U.S. Navy diver and their leading petty officer. “They did a great job. Their actions provided a prime example of why we train the way we do…to be ready for anything at any time. They were ready and as a result, they were able to help save someone’s life.”
Jones and Trainer remain humble and credit what they did all to training.
“When I saw the car go off the road, the first thing that popped into my mind was it was time to Hero Up,” explains Jones. “That is something I tell myself all the time…it is just my way of saying it is time to do what needs to be done.”
“Honestly, I just did what I would hope any other person would do,” said Trainer. “Stop and help a fellow human being…..because it is the right thing to do.”
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