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Off-Duty Navy Officer Saves Disabled Child From Drowning

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Lt. John Miller (image courtesy USN)

By Navy Live 06-22-2020 09:09:00

An evening run turned into a lifesaving event on June 9 for Lt. John Miller of Navy Warfare Development Command at Naval Station Norfolk.

At 1800 hours that evening, Miller was running along the Elizabeth River Trail when he rounded a corner and saw a man with a child in a wheelchair on the edge of the seawall. “I turned the corner and proceeded north,” Miller said. “I was about 10-15 yards along the length of the cruise ship when I heard a splash. I turned, and the man and the child were gone, leaving the empty wheelchair. I sprinted back to the edge and initially saw only the man, who appeared to be floundering.”

Miller quickly asked another jogger to go for help and jumped 10 feet into the water, pulling the man and the child to the seawall. 

“I immediately realized it was covered in barnacles, making it impossible to grip, so I reached overhead and grabbed a line from a cutaway bumper and wrapped it around my right arm,” he said. “I had the man wrap his legs around me with the child safely in between us as I was concerned about the man being overly fatigued or cramping. I assumed that we would wait out rescue.”

At that point, a woman on land above informed them that there was a ladder 10-15 yards down the seawall. The child was non-verbal, so Miller decided to swim for the ladder because he didn't know how much water the child had ingested.

“We swam in tandem down the seawall and then I assisted the man and child to get up the ladder,” Miller said. “The woman who called 911 brought the wheelchair down the pier and we were all out the water by the time the police arrived.” 

Miller said he had no hesitation when the rescue happened. “In the moment, I didn’t even consider an alternative. Treading and swimming with another person is difficult, but I was in the water before I knew it. Perhaps I should have paused and located the nearest ladder or a life ring, but I knew that everything was time critical." he said. "I knew he could not survive the water with his disability, so I had no choice. I did not know the water skills of his guardian, and I could not be sure of any possible injuries or trauma to either of them. I had to act.”

Miller says the real hero was the child’s caretaker, who immediately jumped in, then got help from others in the vicinity. While the caretaker took the first step, Miller provided crucial and lifesaving backup with immediate relief, and a bystander called for help and located a ladder. “If one person is missing from that chain of action, it may have turned out badly,” Miller said.

This article appears courtesy of U.S. Navy News and is reproduced here in an abbreviated form. It may be found in its original form here

The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.