Airman’s day at beach begins with rescue

  • Published
  • By Samuel King Jr.


EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. - As his tiptoes barely touched the sandy floor, 1st Lt. Micah Grissom shoved the distressed swimmer’s limp body into yet another wave hoping it would carry her body closer to shore.

Grissom, 96th Operations Support Squadron, was just a newlywed looking forward to a beautiful day at Princess Beach May 13 when he was called upon to help save the life of a swimmer trapped by a rip current.

Upon arrival to the beach, Grissom and his wife, Lydia, noticed people gathering near the water.  Three swimmers were stranded in deep water between sandbars approximately 20-30 yards from the shore.  A couple got swept out in the rip current and another swimmer, who tried to help, got stranded as well.

There were double red-flag conditions in the area that day, meaning the water is closed to the public. Red flag means high surf and strong currents.

The heavy currents kept on-lookers from attempting another rescue.  Grissom, who was experienced in the water and had aquatic-rescue training with the Merchant Marine Academy prior to commissioning in the Air Force, watched the scene play out.

“There were so many people just watching and I kept asking myself ‘why isn’t anyone doing anything about this,’” said the 25-year-old from Colorado.  “I told my wife I had to go in and at least check on them.”

Grissom entered the water and the heavy currents allowed him to get to the destressed swimmers quickly.  The female swimmer was limp and semi-conscious after swallowing a lot of water.  The male swimmers were keeping her afloat.  The group decided Grissom would attempt to rescue the female.

The avid scuba diver and snorkeler began with a side stroke trying to drag the swimmer toward land, but the current and continuous waves made it impossible. 

The Airman began to use the continuous waves to push the swimmer toward the shore.  He would lift her body up as much as he could and toss her forward as the wave broke to launch her forward.  This proved difficult because he couldn’t touch the bottom or push off the ground and when the wave would take her, he’d immediately get sucked underwater.  He would then have to swim up to her, keep her afloat and try the toss again all while battling big waves and heavy undercurrent.

Grissom said those moments were worrisome.  He said he’d never experienced a rip current that powerful before.

“It was a difficult moment and my confidence was shaken,” he said.  “I wondered are we going to make it.  I knew this was life or death and I just had to get this woman to shore.  I just prayed we’d get there.”

Meanwhile Lydia and others watched and worried on shore.

“It looked like he was struggling for a bit, but we were all relieved when we could tell they were progressing,” said Lydia, who’d only been married to Grissom for less than three months.  “I was so proud of him and thought he was so brave to try and help.”

The tossing method was slow, but effective and finally he could touch land, first on tiptoes and then completely.  Once Grissom had firm footing in the sand, he resisted the rip current, picked up the swimmer and pushed toward the shoreline as quickly as possible.

On the shore, the swimmer vomited up the sea water and regained consciousness. First responders and medics arrived to attend to her after that.

Grissom was completely exhausted after the ordeal.  He said during the rescue his adrenaline was pumping and he was completely focused on the task.  He said he didn’t notice the fatigue until he was back on shore.

The two male swimmers made it back into the shore safely and continuously thanked the lieutenant for his effort.  One of the swimmers said God sent Grissom to that beach at that time.  The Airman, who is very proud of his Christian faith, agreed.

“I think the Lord purposed us to be there that day,” said the lieutenant who planned to go to another beach completely, but stopped at Princess Beach instead.

After an action and drama-filled first hour, the rest of the Grissom’s day at the beach was a relatively calm and relaxing affair.