TAMUNING, Guam – A Navy sailor from Salem is being praised for saving a swimmer off the coast of a beach in Guam that is notorious for “swallowing people into the ocean,” according to the Navy Office of Community Outreach.
Naval Aircrewman 2nd Class James Buriak is a rescue swimmer assigned to Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 8. He was walking with his friends along Gun Beach, one of Guam’s most popular beaches, when he and his group were stopped by two tourists.
The tourists told Buriak that they heard cries for help coming from the water and were searching for someone who could swim and rescue the distressed victims.
“I just happened to be the person there,” said Buriak. “I would like to think that regardless of who it was, they would have done the same. Someone said they needed help, and anyone would do the same in my shoes.”
As he swam into the ocean, Buriak saw a surfer paddling to one of the two people in need of help. After a quick conversation, the surfer swam toward one of the victims and Buriak swam to the person closest to him — a younger man in his 20s.
The man told Buriak that he was OK, and motioned for Buriak to swim to his friend being rescued by the surfer. Once Buriak started to swim away, the man he just spoke to screamed out for help. Buriak began to swim back to the man and was swept up by the rip current.
“Once I got past the reef line, I could tell he was stuck in the current, it really grabbed me and immediately pushed me to him,” said Buriak.
Buriak says once he got to the man, he could see that he was barely keeping his head above water.
“I turned him around and hooked my arm around him in a ‘buddy tow',” said Buriak. “I took him sideways away from the current and started heading back to the beach. That’s when I found the reef with my foot.”
Once they reached the reef, the rescued man was too exhausted to stand. That’s when Buriak began walking him along the coral reef toward shore, cutting his foot in the process.
As the pair got closer, a man threw a boogie board to them and helped bring them back to land. They were met by local firefighters and EMS who were caring for the first person brought back to land by the surfer. The man Buriak rescued thanked him and was then put on a stretcher and taken away to emergency services.
“This is the kind of thing we train for,” said Chief Naval Aircrewman Aaron Albright, Buriak’s chief who witnessed the rescue. “I couldn’t be prouder. He handled it flawlessly.”
Authorities told Buriak that with the amount of water the tourists had swallowed and how tired they were, they were lucky Buriak stepped in when he did.