No doubt many stories of heroism in the face of Japan’s recent tsunami will emerge in the upcoming weeks—one is happening in the Fukushima Daiichi plant as I write this, in fact—but the latest is so beautiful and fantastical that it seems primed for a Hollywood movie.
Meet Hideaki Akaiwa, 43. Startled at work by the now infamous earthquake and tsunami that shook and overtook Japan on March 11, Akaiwa rushed to high ground and immediately called his wife of two decades. When she didn’t answer, Akaiwa ignored friends’ pleas to wait for a military rescue, instead rummaging up some scuba gear and diving into the dark, cold, debris-filled tsunami. Hundreds of yards of swimming later, Akaiwa found his wife struggling against the 10-foot current that had overtaken the couple’s Ishinomaki home.
Once he’d gotten his wife to safety, Akaiwa suffered for four days with worry for his elderly mother. When she didn’t turn up at any of the official evacuation centers, Akaiwa dove once again into the filthy, neck-high waters and swam to her neighborhood, determined to track her down. After some searching, Akaiwa found her, scared and alone, on the second floor of neighbor’s house. “She was very much panicked because she was trapped with all this water around,” he told the Los Angeles Times. “I didn’t know where she was. It was such a relief to find her.”
With his family accounted for, Akaiwa hasn’t rested on his laurels. Rather, he’s spent the past two weeks heading into Ishinomaki in search of other trapped survivors. Armed with a backpack, a flashlight, a Swiss Army knife, and some water, he rides his bike around the wreckage and makes his own destiny.