This is a transcript of Episode 012. To listen to the Podcast or download resources, Click Here.

According to the World Health Organization, every hour of every day, more than 40 people drown to death.

Hard to imagine, isn’t it?

A human life lost…on average…every 90 seconds!

Our 5-year-old granddaughter, Adrianna, was recently [almost] one of them.

“We were right next to our babies and, in the blink of an eye, we almost lost them for good.” This is an excerpt from our daughter Evie’s Facebook post- the day after.

Evie, her husband, Steve, Adrianna, and her two-year-old sister, Sienna, have been living in Okinawa, Japan for the past three years. Steve is a Flight Controller in the Air Force.

Last month, Evie and her friend Amanda took their four kids for a long weekend to Okuma Beach, on the northwest side of Okinawa.

The four children included Amanda’s daughter Reagan, who is 7 years old, her son Brycen who is five, and our two granddaughters, Adrianna and Sienna.

On the way to the beach, Evie and Amanda bought one of those “Giant Inflatable Unicorn” rafts for the kids.

You may have seen one- they’re about 6-feet long, and have a large inflated multi-colored unicorn head that sticks up about three feet.

It was hot- end of the day on Thursday. As soon as Evie parked her SUV, it was bathing suits on and onto the beach. Everyone headed straight for the water.

As soon as the unicorn was inflated, all four kids climbed aboard. Both moms splashed themselves in the knee-deep water to cool off.

Amanda went to grab the kid’s flotation vests.

Before Evie could snap a picture of the kids on the raft, Sienna, who still likes to remain very close to Mommy, jumped off.

Right after the picture, Reagan (the 7-year old) jumped off as well.

No one knows whether it was the evening current or the gusts of wind pushing against the unicorn head. It was likely both.  

Whatever the cause- the raft, Adrianna and Brycen still aboard, began heading out to deeper water.

At first, there was no alarm.

Evie and Amanda were even laughing- running through the water toward the unicorn, then swimming after it to pull it back to safety. Two nearby young men, recognizing what was happening, also ran into the water- trying their darndest to reach it.

It took about 30 seconds for panic set in. All realized there was no way they could reach the raft.

Adrianna and Brycen were in trouble. BIG trouble.

Neither could barely swim. They weren’t wearing their vests. They were rapidly being pulled and pushed…out to sea.

The Moms were screaming, Adrianna and Brycen started screaming.

How could this possibly have happened?!

Evie and Amanda swam back to the shore, yelling for help. Others gathered round them. All watched helplessly as the raft got smaller and smaller.

Many on the beach were Japanese. Most began yelling. Screaming for help. Yelling in two languages out to the kids- “Stay on the float!” 

Cell phones were pulled out. Calls were made- to the Coastguard, the Beach Police, Lifeguard-Rescue.

Twenty-five minutes passed.

The unicorn was barely visible when things got worse- much worse. All on the beach watched in horror as the raft flipped over. Adrianna and Brycen were now in the water- very deep water.

“We kept yelling their names,” cried Evie, “even knowing there was no way they could hear us… they were just too far out. Again, neither of them knew how to really swim. I thought we had lost them. I collapsed on the beach… unable to function.”

About a half-mile down the beach, Jesse Flamenco was celebrating his wife’s birthday with she and their kids. They had just finished dinner and were renting a bicycle beach buggy when a man ran up, screaming for help.

“Kids drowning at North Beach!”

Because most of the people in the area were Japanese, and didn’t speak English, no one else was responding. Jesse, his wife, and kids jumped into the buggy and pedaled as fast as they could down the beach.

As they got near, they could hear Evie and Amanda screaming. Both moms were pointing toward the overturned raft, which at this point was about a thousand meters out.

Jesse had had a few drinks during their dinner celebration, but he got sober real fast. He yelled for someone to get him a snorkel. People were screaming back at him, “No! You’ll drown yourself.”

His wife, on the other hand, screamed just the opposite- “You have to go!”

He ran over to a family’s tent on the beach and rummaged through their stuff until he found a child’s snorkel. As he put it on and ran toward the water, a guy on the beach tried to physically stop him.

Jesse dove into the water, swimming as fast as he could toward the raft. As he put it, “God had me the whole swim! He carried me as I was gliding through the water.”

About half way to the overturned float, he saw something amidst the swells. He prepared himself, anticipating a drowned child. As he got closer, he could see it was a girl, treading water for her life!

By this time, the 30 seconds had drawn out to forty-five minutes. The kids had been in the water for about 20 minutes. An eternity.

He got to Adrianna just as her head was going under. He pulled her up, told her she was safe, and had her grab hold of his back as he swam toward the nearest shore.

Beach Rescue finally showed up and were getting their jet skis into the water.  

As Evie put it, “As I was on my knees in the sand praying for some kind of miracle for our babies to be okay, a man ran over to us saying “The little girl has been rescued, she’s alright! A man who jumped in to swim has her on a small beach on the other side, and we need a jet ski NOW!” My heart exploded, my baby girl was okay. A few minutes after this they called in on the radio that they had “rescued the little boy and he was okay.”

As fate had it, Brycen had just learned how to float on his back. He was able to stay afloat until help arrived.

Evie wrote in her Facebook entry, “I thank God, and will continue to- every single day for the rest of my life… for looking out for our kids that evening.”

Jesse’s faith was renewed as well. “God lead me right to her in a straight line,” he recalled. “God wanted that girl to live! As we got to shore, I asked her if she was okay. She responded calmly, “Yeah. I’m fine. I knew you were coming.”

The faith of a child. The willingness to serve to save a life.

Yes, my friends, miracles do indeed happen.

I began this episode with a sobering statistic. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 360,000 human beings lose their lives through drowning each year.

I know- we’re bombarded with data.

So much data, it tends to become nothing more than ‘noise’ in our otherwise busy lives. After all, though horrible, it’s just another statistic. That is- until someone we know or love becomes one of them.

In our case, catastrophe was averted.

Some will call it luck. Others- a miracle.

For me- I thank God…and Jesse Flamenco, who surely earned his angel wings on that fateful evening.

Yes- accidents happen.

Unfortunately, it tends to be after the fact that we see how things could (and should) have been done differently.

After the fact, it’s easy to see how an accident could have been prevented.

After the fact, we’re amazed at how, in an instant…everything changed.

After the fact, we wish we’d taken a different turn, made a different choice…done SOMETHING differently.

If we could only have a do-over.

In our case, thanks to God and Jesse Flamenco, this “accident” is tendered as yet another reason to be Grateful.

If you’re looking at the pdf for this Episode, this is a picture of Brycen and Adrianna the day after the incident.

All agreed it was better to go back to the water rather than be afraid of it. This time of course- with proper precaution.

In my book, 6-Hour Safety Culture, I recount four instances where my reckless behavior or lack of situational awareness left me as well, each on the backside of a miracle. This is likely the main reason I’ve been led to do what I do.

And you?

You may have a similar story.

And if you don’t have one yourself, you likely know someone who does.

When it comes to accidents, it only takes an instant for EVERYTHING to change.

Some are fortunate…others are not.

For us, the thing is to do our part to minimize the potential for accidents to ever happen in the first place.

As performance improvement professionals, most of us see this as far more than a job. We see it as a sacred duty- to help keep people from getting hurt. To save lives. To do our part to prevent physical and environmental catastrophe.

As far as I’m concerned, this is the best “job” in the world. In fact, it’s not a job at all- it’s an HONOR.

Also as far as I’m concerned, “gratitude” is the single-most important word in the English language.

I am so grateful that Adrianna and Brycen were being watched out for on that fateful Thursday evening. I am so grateful that Jesse Flamenco listened to the call…and chose to serve.

By the way, Adrianna is now incessant about learning to swim. And let me tell you- when she puts her mind to something…well, she’s just like her Mom…she does NOT let it go!

And at the age of five, she’s now decided- she wants to become…a lifeguard!

We are very happy that our son-in-law’s tour in Japan is coming to a close in the next several weeks. Soon, I’ll be able to wrap my arms around our wonderful granddaughter, as inside I’ll be saying “Thank you!” “Thank You!” “Thank You!”

I am so grateful to have the opportunity to share with you- and to do my part to serve.

And…I’m so grateful for you- and all YOU are doing to help make our world a better and safer place!

If you have a similar story (or know of a similar story)- one from which we all might be able to learn, take extra caution, or simply take pause to be grateful, please share it in the Comments section below.

To conclude this piece (which has been a LITTLE different than most episodes of, in addition to simply saying “thank you”, I have to ask…

What are you doing to influence your culture today?


Tim Autrey

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