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4 Navy sailors save 2 teen girls from drowning near Mayport

Volleyball players rush into ocean when beachgoers call for help

Navy Chief Petty Officer Aniahau Desha, Petty Officer 1st Class Sheldon Lucius, Petty Officer 3rd Class Joshua Essick and Seaman Gaston Yescas (Photos by Petty Officer 2nd Class John Benson)
Navy Chief Petty Officer Aniahau Desha, Petty Officer 1st Class Sheldon Lucius, Petty Officer 3rd Class Joshua Essick and Seaman Gaston Yescas (Photos by Petty Officer 2nd Class John Benson)

NAVAL STATION MAYPORT, Fla. – Four U.S. Navy men's volleyball players risked their lives to help save two teenage girls May 5 caught in the rough surf off Naval Station Mayport, according to a news report from the Department of Defense.

Cries from beachgoers caught the attention of Chief Petty Officer Aniahau Desha, Seaman Gaston Yescas, Petty Officer 1st Class Sheldon Lucius and Petty Officer 3rd Class Joshua Essick.

Two people had been spotted in trouble 75 yards off shore, and despite the danger, the four sailors, who are part of the All-Navy Men’s Volleyball Team, went into the waters to help the endangered swimmers.

“I was on the beach with my wife, and everyone showed up there, Josh, Sheldon, and Gaston. We’d just sat down, and some ladies came up the beach were yelling for help, seeing that the girls were out in the waves, needing help,” said Desha, from Hilo, Hawaii. “They were in trouble, so we just ran into the water and got them.”

As the rescuers reached the teenagers, one of the girls was holding on to her unresponsive friend, according to the DOD report.

Lucius, from Pearl City, Hawaii, pulled the conscious swimmer ashore, ensuring her safety, while Essick, from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and the others carried the unresponsive swimmer up onto the beach.

“When we got on shore, as soon as I picked her up, I noticed that she wasn’t breathing,” Desha said. “It was obvious that she wasn’t breathing. I checked for her pulse -- there was no pulse. So we immediately started chest compressions and mouth-to-mouth.”

Desha and Yescas, from Tucson, Arizona, performed CPR until emergency rescue personnel arrived to relieve them.

“Since I’m a corpsman up to date with the CPR certifications and all, and I was also a lifeguard for eight years, this was honestly like a normal drill, I would say. I’ve been in a lot of incidents like this,” Yescas said.

The sailors' heroic actions did not go unnoticed.

“Two teenagers are alive today as a direct result of [these sailors’] quick thinking, bravery and composure under extreme pressure,” said All-Navy men’s volleyball coach Gilburto Bermudez.

Thomas Lyszkowski, First Coast Navy Fire and Emergency Services assistant fire chief, echoed the sentiment, saying the swimmer found unresponsive had been released from the hospital.

“Because of the actions of these sailors, she’s alive,” Lyszkowski said.

“Those sailors put others before themselves, and did so at great risk to their own safety,” added Mark Brusoe, First Coast Navy Fire and Emergency Services fire chief.

Yescas said he was happy to hear the unconscious girl had recovered.

“Her mom sent us a message on Facebook to let us know that she was getting discharged, and that her daughter was going to write us a letter and send us a picture just saying thank you for what we did,” Yescas said.

Desha said that he did what he hopes anyone would to save a child.

“It’s an amazing feeling knowing that this girl’s going to see another day because of what we did,” Desha said. “For the parents, especially, and as a parent myself, I couldn’t imagine hearing the news that something happened to my daughter. And if someone was there to help, I’d like them to do the same for me if it was my child. So, I’m pretty honored.”