Image Copyright: The Associated Press
By David Larter, Staff writer
Mineman Third Class (SW) Travis Kirckof was fast asleep in his bunk at 2:20 a.m. on Jan. 17, 2013, when the hull shuddered and the collision alarm sounded, jolting him and 78 shipmates out of bed.
The mine countermeasures ship Guardian had slammed into a reef off the Philippines, triggering a nearly two-day ordeal that pushed Kirckof past his breaking point.
Kirckof — who’d never thought he’d be put in a situation where he had to save a life when he earned his search and rescue swimmer qualification — swam for five hours in shark-infested waters to ferry shipmates into lifeboats against the current, saving two lives and aiding dozens more struggling sailors.