Three U.S. Navy reservists received certificates of commendation from Mayor Maryanne Kusaka Wednesday morning for rescuing a swimmer in distress on Aug. 7.
MM1 (SS) Jerry Dolak, AE3 Rick Gutierrez and TM2 (SS) Steve Dotson, were teeing up at the third hole on Wailua Golf Course when they heard shouts coming from the ocean, and a woman running across the beach waving her hands for help.
Dolak remembered that they ran down to the beach and took off their golf gear. Dolak swam out about 100 yards, with Gutierrez backing him up and Dotson signaling the swimmer’s location from the embankment of the golf course.
The choppy, five-to-seven-foot waves didn’t allow Dolak much chance of seeing his spotter, much less the swimmer.
After trying to judge his comrade’s hand motions between waves, Dolak said he swam out a little farther, right into the troubled swimmer.
They tried doing the side stroke back to shore, but the swimmer was so fatigued that Dolak said he ended up towing him almost all the way in.
Gutierrez got caught in the shorebreak and was treading water for about 10 minutes.
The swimmer, a Koloa man who has been living on Kaua’i for about three years, said he just wanted to go for a swim but got pulled out in the treacherous rip current.
At one point, a wave swallowed them up for about 20 seconds, Dolak said; he thought for sure they were done for, he said.
They did their best to paddle back in against the pounding surf; and just as the victim said he couldn’t fight any longer, Dolak said he felt sand under his feet.
“So stand up and walk,” he remembered.
Emergency rescue personnel and a Lydgate lifeguard came to the scene to find everyone was all right, and other golfers were apparently astounded by their quick decision to jump in the ocean.
Later, they said they found out the Nukoli’i area, besides not having a lifeguard, is known for its strong currents, high surf and dangerous shorebreak.
In addition to their commendations of bravery, Mayor Kusaka also treated the heroes to a round of golf.
The three men are stationed at the Pacific Missile Range Facility and were called back to duty after Sept. 11 to provide military security. Dolak, of Honolulu, leads safety training classes for Outrigger Hotels. Dotson, from Arizona, worked as a communications electrician. Gutierrez is an officer with the Los Angeles Police Department.