Three weeks ago a married couple and two other men, all serving with the US Air Force at Misawa Air Base in Aomori Japan (the far northern prefecture of Honshu island), rented some kayaks and launched into the ocean.
When they did not return by late afternoon, an informal search was started. When they were not found by next morning, authorities were contacted. The US Navy sent up a C-12 aircraft (Beech King Air for us civilians) which was flown at lower than usual altitude in hopes of improving the chance of spotting the kayaks. The JMSDF launched a P-3 Orion along with Sikorsky UH-60J search and rescue helicopters, while the Japan Coast Guard sent out surface vessels.
Bottom line, the four were found and pulled aboard a Japan Coast Guard boat after being spotted by the P-3 and C-12 and then helicopters.
They were clinging to their overturned kayaks some ten miles (TEN MILES!) out to sea. For an inkling as to how hard it is to see objects on the surface of the ocean from an aircraft, take a look at the US Navy photo below taken from the C-12 and showing the kayaks being approached by a helicopter and the Japan Coast Guard boat.
The kayakers were suffering from hypothermia after so long in water, which I would have to guess would have been around 50 to 55°F, but happily had no other issues. (A fellow pilot of mine on Maui spent a similar amount of time in the water in a life vest after ditching his single engine plane and suffered the loss of bits of flesh from his legs and feet upon which large fish had nibbled).
After this rescue, the US military made sure that restrictions on ocean activities, which the Japanese government had initiated after the March 11 tsunami, were applied to US military personnel as well. Yes, they can go to the beaches and bays manned by Japanese lifeguards, but open ocean adventures in the quake affected area are out for now.
More importantly, the lessons we should take away from this incident are to never engage in a moderate or greater risk activity (anything on, in, or over the water in my opinion) unless you are experienced with it or accompanied by someone who is, and have a plan and a schedule that you leave with someone on shore who will notify authorities if you don't get back on time. These folks were lucky in that their vehicles were found on the beach where they launched, giving rescue units a starting point for planning search patterns. In addition, the US military and the Japanese government responded with an amazing array of equipment and rescue personnel who prevented this outing from ending in tragedy for several families.
Be safe out there.
Until next, sweet sailing.