Hideaki Akaiwa: The “Scuba” Hero Who Saved His Family?

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    English language internet sites are abuzz about the amazing accomplishments of Hideaki Akaiwa, a Japanese man who rescued his wife and mother from the deadly Tohoku tsunami, apparently using a scuba suit in the process. Most sites seem to be linking the dramatic retelling of Akaiwa’s story by the writers at “Badass of the Week.”

    It sounds like an amazing story, the kind of story that people in Japan would love to hear. Ever since the earthquake, the Japanese media has been heavily reporting on tales of dramatic rescue and survival. Having seen nothing about Akaiwa on Japanese TV, I searched around the internet for Japanese language articles about him. The only article I could find was a short piece of RocketNews.jp, but it used an English language source. How could the Japanese media possibly miss such an incredible story?

    Both “Badass of the Week” and RocketNews.jp cited an article by Mark Magnier, South Asia correspondent for the Los Angeles Times, who was presumably rushed to Japan to help the newspaper provide better coverage of the disaster. Here is are the passages bout Akaiwa’s “scuba gear” rescue efforts:

    Hideaki Akaiwa, in Miyagi prefecture, has decided not to wait for rescue workers. With a scuba suit on, he waded through flooded streets to rescue his wife, and later his mother. He continues to look for more survivors.

    [...]

    Akaiwa said he was at work a few miles away when the tsunami hit, and he rushed back to find his neighborhood inundated with up to 10 feet of water. Not willing to wait until the government or any international organization did, or did not, arrive to rescue his wife of two decades — whom he had met while they were surfing in a local bay — Akaiwa got hold of some scuba gear. He then hit the water, wended his way through the debris and underwater hazards and managed to reach his house, from which he dragged his wife to safety.

    “The water felt very cold, dark and scary,” he recalled. “I had to swim about 200 yards to her, which was quite difficult with all the floating wreckage.”

    Rick Westhead, a South Asia correspondent for the Toronto Star, also met Akaiwa and wrote a story about his rescue efforts. Westhead’s article makes no mention of scuba gear:

    If Hideaki Akaiwa’s wife asks him years from now if he still loves her, he’ll have a ready-made answer: Remember that time I put on a wetsuit, slipped into ice-cold black water, navigated broken glass, downed power lines and splintered timber, and spent days searching for you after the tsunami?

    He mentions a wetsuit, which could be used for scuba diving, but it says nothing about Akaiwa being a scuba diver. However, a passage later in the article gives a major clue about why Akaiwa had ready access to a wetsuit:

    The avid sportsman — he met his wife 20 years ago surfing in a local bay — he looked emotionally and physically spent.

    Akaiwa was a surfer. Surfers often wear wetsuits. Nothing in the article about scuba diving.

    Could Westhead write an entire article about Akaiwa without mentioning the highly dramatic use of scuba gear? Why did the journalists not take a photo of the scuba gear?

    I really can’t imagine that a journalist would deliberately try to remove novelty and drama from such a story. I can, however, imagine a journalist may have heard about a “wetsuit” and incorrectly associated its use with scuba diving.

    It’s possible that Akaiwa really did scuba dive his way though the tsunami, and there’s a chance we could hear all the awesome details about it after the Japanese media discovers this story and does some follow-up reporting. However, I leaning towards the idea that the scuba thing may not be entirely true….

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