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USS Memphis Sailor
Saves Buddy's Life on Mt. Fuji

By Journalist 2nd Class Corwin Colbert, Commander, Submarine Force Pacific public affairs
 

July 29, 2005

Culinary Specialist 3rd Class Kyle Johnson shown busy at work onboard USS Memphis. (Official US Navy photo)

MOUNT FUJI, Japan -- Culinary Specialist 3rd Class Kyle Johnson, a native of Lavergne, Tenn., and member onboard USS Memphis (SSN 691) saved a shipmate’s life following a hiking accident on Mount Fuji on July 24.

The former lifeguard was hiking on Mount Fuji when his liberty buddy fell approximately 15 feet.

When Johnson saw him fall, he provided immediate first-aid.

“My first thought was he had a spinal injury and needed to be stabilized,” said Johnson.

While stabilizing the victim, Johnson notice things were not going too well.

“His pulse was fading and he was not breathing,” he said. “I gave him two emergency breaths.”

During this time, a hiker who was passing by called for a rescue crew.

The petty officer began having convulsions. Johnson kept his head and neck stabilized during the convulsions then performed more CPR. After the second convulsion, the victim had no pulse. Johnson kept his composure.

“When I felt he didn’t have a pulse, I performed three cycles of chest compressions,” he said.

Soon after the incident, it began to rain. Johnson did not want his shipmate to develop hypothermia.

“I put all the clothes we had on him to keep him warm,” said Johnson. “I even took off almost all my clothes, including my socks and shoes to cover his whole body. I had to keep him warm, so I laid on top of him to keep his body temperature up,” he said.

Hours went by and still there was no rescue. Coming up the trail were a Japanese family who spotted the two men. The family immediately offered their hot packs, some clothes and blankets. Johnson quickly put the hot packs on the victim’s chest.

“I wanted to keep his blood circulating,” said Johnson.
The family again called for the search and rescue team. The team told them the rescue efforts were halted because it was foggy and they could not find the victim.

“When I heard that, I told them we needed the rescue to be reinstated,” Johnson said.

The rescue was reinstated, but the dispatcher said it might take hours or days due to the fog. Staying focused, Johnson asked the woman to call information to get the number to the Navy base who in turn directed them to Camp Fuji, a U.S. Marine Corps base not far from the foot of the mountain.

“When I called Camp Fuji, I talked to a duty corpsman and told him of the conditions,” said Johnson. “He sent some Marines and a few corpsman to save us.”

While the party waited to be rescued, the corpsman called every 10 minutes. The fog soon cleared and the rescue team was nearby, down the mountain near a checkpoint.

“When I saw them I was a little relieved but I was too worried about my crewmember. I gave him some oxygen tablets to fight compression sickness,” said Johnson.

The rescue team put the injured submariner on a stretcher, loaded him on the rescue truck and headed off to the medical facility.

“This Sailor would not have made it if it were not for the efforts of Johnson,” said USS Memphis’ Chief of the Boat Al Atkinson.

“The life-saving techniques used by Johnson came from his personal experience. Incidents like this is why we hold CPR and other life saving training on the boat,” said Atkinson.

Master Chief Hospital Corpsman Darrin Way, Commander Submarine Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet’s Force Corpsman, said Johnson’s efforts were crucial.

“When blood stops flowing in the body leaving your vital organs without fresh oxygen, it is only a matter of time before a person expires,” he said.

“This Sailor did everything right and save a shipmate’s life,” said Way.

Johnson said he was not worried about being a hero but was worried about saving a life. He also said the thing he disliked most about going on liberty showed him why it was important.

“When I first learned of the buddy system, I thought it was a drag but then after this experience I think it is very important,” said Johnson.

Atkinson also credited the buddy system for preventing this incident from becoming a tragedy. It requires two or more Sailors to go on liberty in a foreign port together.

“Since leaving for deployment, we have adopted the standard Navy buddy system guidelines,” said Atkinson. “As you can see, the system works.”

 

 
 
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