Wife of airman swept out to sea off Okinawa 'hoping for a miracle'

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Wife of airman swept out to sea off Okinawa 'hoping for a miracle'

by: Becky Purser | .
The Macon (Ga.) Telegraph (MCT | .
published: October 07, 2014

WARNER ROBINS, Ga. — The wife of a Robins Air Force Base, Ga., airman missing from Okinawa, Japan, after being swept out to sea during the weekend by high waves from a typhoon hasn’t given up hope.

The other missing Robins airman’s wife is asking for prayers that her husband be found alive. The family of a third Robins airman who died is grieving.

Missing are Josh Schoenhoff of the 461st Air Control Wing and Dan Paschal of the 116th Air Control Wing. Killed was Jimmy Swartz of the 116th Air Control Wing.

The 116th Air Control Wing and the 461st Air Control Wing jointly operate JSTARS, the Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System. JSTARS is an advanced ground surveillance and battle management system.

“We’re still hoping for a miracle,” Michaella Paschal, wife of Master Sgt. Dan Paschal, said by telephone Monday. “Everyone is searching.

“The search and rescue teams are still out there looking. So, we’re still hopeful.”

The Paschals have a 3-year-old girl.

Emily Bowden, a friend of the Swartz family, said the family did not wish to make a statement at this time and asked that their privacy be respected.

“He was an awesome father, husband ... a great Christian man,” Bowden said. “Our loss is Heaven’s gain.”

The following message was posted on a Facebook group account for prayer requests for Shirley Hills Baptist Church:

“You may have seen news from Japan about three airmen in a tragedy in foul weather. All three are from RAFB. One of them is our own Josh Schoenhoff. At the moment, all we know is that Josh is missing and that his wife Jessica needs your prayers. The search continues by the Japanese Coast Guard. Apparently a group was walking on a rocky coastline when a large wave washed one airman out to sea. Two others immediately dove in the water to help. There is one confirmed casualty but no names have been released. Obviously this is a very difficult day. Family members around the country are being notified now. Jessica is asking us to pray for a miracle. Please stop now and pray. Thank you for doing this.”

When contacted about the Facebook post Sunday, Shirley Hills Baptist Church Pastor Andy Cook said he was reluctant to release any information before the Air Force. After the Air Force at least acknowledged that the three airmen were from Robins AFB in a news release Monday and after he had the blessing of the family, Cook said he was willing to talk about Schoenhoff.

“When we heard that there had been an accident and that, in the group, there were people jumping into the ocean trying to save a friend, there was no doubt in our minds that Josh would have been one of those who immediately jumped in,” Cook said. “That’s the kind of man that he wants to be.”

There is a Bible verse, Cook said, where Jesus says, “Greater love has no man than this, than a man lay down his life for his friends.”

“That’s the ideal Josh was aiming for,” Cook said. “And we all are still holding out at least some glimmer of hope that perhaps he’s alive.”

“In the meantime, we’re trying our best to support this family in our church that’s obviously devastated.”

The family is asking for prayers that Josh would still be found alive, although the longer this goes on the worse it gets, Cook said.

The Schoenhoffs have two small children, Cook said. Josh Schoenhoff is an aircraft mechanic.

The airmen, who were on temporary duty at Kadena Air Base, were reportedly visiting the northwest coast of the island when the incident occurred around 3:45 p.m. Sunday, according to a Robins AFB release issued Monday.

The Air Force still had not released their names as of Monday afternoon.

A joint search-and-rescue operation is being conducted by the U.S. Air Force and Japanese Coast Guard. Authorities are doing all they can based on weather conditions, the release stated.

According to an article published in the Stars and Stripes, the missing airmen were among a group of airmen who were walking along the coastline Sunday despite a high-wave warning as Typhoon Phanfone was headed north toward the Japanese mainland. CNN reported the airmen were taking photos of the high waves.

Four of the six-member group were swept away, the Stars and Stripes reported. One made it back to shore, while another was found unconscious in the water a few hours later and was pronounced dead at Hokubu Hospital in Nago, the article stated. The article attributed its information to a spokesman for the Japanese Coast Guard.

The post on Kadena Air Base's Facebook page says personnel from Kadena and the Japanese Coast Guard searched for more than 24 hours, and rough seas were complicating rescue efforts.

“Team Kadena’s thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of the airmen involved in this tragic incident,” Col. Thomas Torkelson, 18th Wing vice commander, stated in the post. “This event touches every member of the Air Force family ... The search for our missing brothers-in-arms will continue.”

©2014 The Macon (Ga.) Telegraph. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.