Sean Kingston rescued by off-duty Coast Guardsman

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Petty Officer 3rd Class Jonathan Rivera, an avionics electrical technician, receives his certificate upon completion of "A" school at Coast Guard Aviation Technical Training Center in Elizabeth City, N.C. Photo courtesy of Petty Officer 3rd Class Jonathan Rivera.
Petty Officer 3rd Class Jonathan Rivera, an avionics electrical technician, receives his certificate upon completion of "A" school at Coast Guard Aviation Technical Training Center in Elizabeth City, N.C. Photo courtesy of Petty Officer 3rd Class Jonathan Rivera.

We often hear stories of exceptional acts performed by everyday people. The woman that pulls a passenger from a burning car seconds before it bursts into flames. Or the man who resuscitates an unconscious individual just when you think there is no hope. These are the good Samaritans of our communities and whenever we hear their stories we are both amazed and grateful. Over the holiday weekend, an off-duty Coast Guardsmen played the role of good Samaritan in what would turn out to be the rescue of hip-hop artist Sean Kingston.

Petty Officer 3rd Class Jonathan Rivera, an avionics electrical technician based out of Air Station Miami, was enjoying a day off boating on Biscayne Bay with friends and family. As they cruised along in their boat, they decided to head towards Star Island to take in the sights.

Petty Officer 3rd Class Jonathan Rivera with his family upon completion of "A" school at Coast Guard Aviation Technical Training Center in Elizabeth City, N.C. Photo courtesy of Petty Officer 3rd Class Jonathan Rivera.
Petty Officer 3rd Class Jonathan Rivera with his family upon completion of "A" school at Coast Guard Aviation Technical Training Center in Elizabeth City, N.C. Photo courtesy of Petty Officer 3rd Class Jonathan Rivera.

Approaching the island, Rivera sensed something was wrong when he spotted a group of people in the water by the Palm Island Bridge. One of them was shouting but Rivera and his passengers couldn’t hear what was being said. As Rivera moved closer he finally got the message… “He’s drowning!”

“I was driving up to them and surveyed the scene because I didn’t want to put anyone else in danger,” recalls Rivera. “I knew time was short and when I heard what they were shouting I thought to myself ‘I need to get him out of the water now.’”

This was a new experience for Rivera, as he is usually the eyes and ears from above as a qualified flight mechanic for Coast Guard rescue helicopters. Despite his lack of experience, he thought back to emergency procedures taught at the Aviation Technical Training Center in Elizabeth City where all of the Coast Guard’s enlisted aviation forces undergo training.

“I swam up to the watercrafts but the survivor was completely underwater when I got there,” recalls Rivera. “I went underwater and scooped him up from behind and I knew he couldn’t sink because he was laying across my arms and I was up against the watercraft.”

Rivera kept the man from going underwater and talked to the other survivor to make sure she was safe as another bystander called the police. After 10 minutes had passed a police boat arrived and Rivera worked with the officers to ensure the survivor was stable on the boat.

Petty Officer 3rd Class Jonathan Rivera was off duty when he came to the rescue of singer Sean Kingston. Photograph by Chris Pizzello/AP.
Petty Officer 3rd Class Jonathan Rivera was off duty when he came to the rescue of singer Sean Kingston. Photograph by Chris Pizzello/AP.

The survivors were rushed to the hospital and after a hectic and eventful day on the water, Rivera and his friends and family headed home. It wasn’t until later that Rivera learned from friends who had seen the rescue on the news that the man he rescued was singer Sean Kingston.

Rivera was stunned by the news of his involvement with the celebrity rescue. But, as he reflected on his actions that day, it all went back to why he chose to serve in the United States Coast Guard.

“Honestly, as a Coast Guardsman, you know you must be always ready – its our motto,” said Rivera. “But it really is different for me now. This made it much more real.”

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