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Four Navy servicemen rescue drowning girls in Florida

JACKSONVILLE, Florida — Pulling off their T-shirts and emptying their pockets, the four Navy enlisted men bolted across the sand and barreled into the crashing waves.  

The four — Joshua Essick, Aniahau Desha, Gaston Yescas and Sheldon Lucius — had been lounging on the beach at Mayport Naval Station in Florida.          

They had made the All-Navy Volleyball team and were relaxing on a recent weekend before an upcoming tournament, and had reached the beach before the rest of their teammates.          

Then, two women rushed up to them.

"Help those girls out there! They're in trouble, we think they're drowning!" the women yelled.

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Essick, 26, who played varsity volleyball, said he and the others gazed out to the churning ocean and saw the two teenage girls. The waves thrashed at them, in water that had to be over their heads.          

There was no thinking at that point, Essick said. Just doing.

All-Navy Volleyball players Chief Petty Officer Aniahau Desha from Hilo, Hawaii, Hospitalman Gaston Yescas from Tucson, Ariz., Petty Officer 1st Class Sheldon Lucius from Pearl City, Hawaii, and Petty Officer 3rd Class Joshua Essick from York County, Pa. who saved the lives of two teenage girls at Naval Station Mayport beach, Florida.

In the water, on the beach

Blasting through the waves, the four men split up into pairs. Essick and Yescas swam to one girl, who appeared unresponsive.

"Her eyes were in the back of her head; she was starting to foam at the mouth," Essick said of the girl he and Yescas had reached.          

At the same time, Desha and Lucius fought the waves to get to the other girl, who was conscious.

Grasping underneath her armpits to keep her head above water, Essick and Yescas powered the unconscious girl to shore. Meanwhile, Desha and Lucius did the same with the girl they had focused on.          

On the beach, Yescas, a hospitalman — similar to a nurse in civilian circles — and Desha set about helping the unconscious girl, with Yescas performing mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and Desha handling chest compressions.          

"They couldn't find a pulse," Essick said.

The rush of the rescue gone, time slowed and stretched out on the beach. Seconds felt like minutes.
There was more foam bubbling from her mouth. After some time, "You could see her start to come back, her eyes were moving, her pupils were dilating," Essick said.         

But still, no pulse. Then, an ambulance pulled up, paramedics jumped out and took over, carting the girl away.

Putting the pieces together

And then, a silence on the sand.

"We just kind of sat there and prayed," Essick said. They shivered, realizing for the first time just how frigid the water had been.          

They had no idea who the girl was, so they wondered if they would ever know if she lived or died, he said.

But then, they did hear back. Turns out the mother of the girl they helped is a senior chief petty officer in the Navy. She reached out to the men on Facebook and thanked them, and other family members have sent them cards, Essick said.          

Best of all, the girl was released from the hospital with no lingering problems, he said.

Essick, who graduated in 2010 and enlisted to see the world and look for career options, has returned to his station as a sonar operator in California. But he says he's still processing how the pieces of the rescue fit together.           

"It was a blessing we showed up early," at the beach, he said. "because if that wouldn't have happened, I don't know what would've happened."          

Not only that, but the women who spotted the girls somehow picked the four of them as would-be rescuers. And the four stepped up, without hesitation.          

"I think a lot of it was our training — you do what needs to be done and do what's right," he said.

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