NAHA, OKINAWA PREF. – High waves and strong tides following the passage of a typhoon pulled four family members who were visiting Irabu Island in Okinawa Prefecture away from the shore and three of them drowned.
The accident happened Monday while they were snorkeling near Toguchi-no-Hama Beach in the city of Miyakojima, police said Tuesday.
The victims were identified as Shinsuke Ieiri, 72, his son-in-law, Shigekazu Kamei, 47, and Kamei’s 12-year-old son, Rintaro.
Kamei’s 8-year-old daughter, who was with them when the accident occurred at around 4 p.m. Monday, was rescued, the police said.
Ieiri and Kamei, from Akashi, Hyogo Prefecture, were traveling with their wives and Kamei’s two children. The accident occurred on the first day of their summer vacation on Irabu Island.
According to the police, the four members were initially wearing life vests to keep them afloat on the surface. Kamei’s daughter got into difficulties after she took off her life jacket. The police believe that Ieiri and Kamei were swept away by the waves while they were trying to help her.
None of the three who died were wearing life jackets when their bodies were recovered.
The Japan Coast Guard, alerted by witnesses who called for an ambulance saying that someone had been sucked under the waves, immediately dispatched a helicopter to the area from its base on Ishigaki Island.
Rintaro Kamei’s body was spotted at a depth of 1.5 meters under the surface about 20 meters from the shore at around 6 p.m., some two hours after the emergency call was placed.
Rescuers managed to retrieve the boy, but he was confirmed dead.
At the time of the incident, the beach was crowded with vacationers and Kamei’s wife began screaming for help when her family members started to drown, according to officials.
A man in his 30s and two teenage students from Miyakojima who were at the scene rushed to rescue the 8-year-old girl, using a life ring to pull her to the shore.
Some of the witnesses also assisted in rescue efforts and pulled Kamei and Ieiri out of the water while others gave them cardiac massage. They were transported to a hospital by the emergency crew but were later pronounced dead.
Kamei’s wife and the daughter watched the rescue efforts, witnesses said.
Toguchi-no-Hama Beach, known for its emerald-green water and an 800-meter-long stretch of white sand, is considered one of the best beaches in Okinawa.
According to the Coast Guard, waves that are usually calm close to shore rose to a height of up to 2 meters after Typhoon Soudelor passed south of the island over the weekend.
There were no lifeguards patrolling the beach Monday.
“The wind was strong and the waves were high because of the typhoon,” said a woman who works at a nearby hotel. “Locals would have known the power of the ocean current. But they (the vacationers) may have been lured by the beautiful crystal-clear waters. It’s sad.”
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