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Mighty Ninety Airmen save lives

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Malcolm Mayfield
  • 90th Missile Wing Public Affairs
On June 16, Airmen from the 90th Operations Group were taking a break from training, soaking up the sun and enjoying the warm gulf waters of Fort Walton Beach on the Florida panhandle.

"I'd been at this northern tier base for four years, so I was excited for the sun and the warm water," said Capt. Bennett Johnson, 321st Missile Squadron.

Johnson and Capt. Joshua Wenta, 321st Missile Squadron; Staff Sgt. Jennifer Cornett, 321st MS; Capt. Daniel Cook, 90th Operations Support Squadron; and Maj. Thomas Perry, 320th Missile Squadron were on the beach enjoying their break when calls for help were heard from the gulf's waters.

"I was maybe 150 yards out with a boogie board when I heard [someone yelling my name]," Johnson said. "Then I heard, 'Help them!'" Some of the people on the shore I was [on temporary duty assignment] with were pointing to a lady."

After hearing the shouts from his team, Johnson noticed several people near him in danger and immediately sprung to action.

"There was no finesse," Johnson said. "I look over and they're probably 20 yards closer to the shore than I was, so I swam over with the boogie board."

Johnson helped a women along with a man, who had also tried to help her, while Wenta and Cook swam out to help Johnson with the rescue.

"Once we realized there were people in the water [who needed help], I started running across the beach and dove in." Wenta said. "It wasn't a formal thought process; it was identifying who's out there and helping them."

Johnson and the other man got the women up on the board, and Johnson started to push her toward the shore where he was met by the others.

"The waves would form, pulling us back and crashing forward. I kept using that momentum to propel us," Johnson said. "The whole thing lasted a minute, minute in a half, but felt like an hour."

After passing the person off to Wenta, Johnson made his way to help more people.

While Johnson, Wenta and Cook handled things in the water, Perry and Cornett took control of the beach.

"It wasn't coordinated, we just all went into action and assumed different roles," Wenta said. "There was no preplanning, no group huddle, we just went out there to save their lives."

Though the group lacked preplanning, each one played a role in ensuring the safety of the other beach goers. 

"We pulled them in from the shore and made sure they were rolled over on their side and still breathing while we flagged down the [emergency medical technicians]." Cornett said. "Maj. Perry stopped people from going into the water after us, he was like a barrier. More people wanted to jump in and help but they could've been dragged out as well."

Michele Micholson, Okaloosa County Sheriff's Department public information office, reported riptides kept her department deputies and the county beach safety unit busy that Tuesday responding to calls of swimmers in distress up and down the long coast of the Okaloosa Island.

Cornett said the team pulled a total of three adults and two teenagers out of the water that day. After the rescue, she adds, emergency crews and the local sheriff's department took over the medical care for those rescued once they arrived on scene.

Johnson said, after the five people were safe, families of the victims thanked the Airmen with hugs and words of gratitude,  leaving the rescuers with a sense of accomplishment.