'I hope this incident helps the mermaid community get the respect we deserve as well as show others that it is a serious sport.'
Pablo Avila, his son and a friend got to live a fairy tale dream when they were rescued by three mermaids in California. The trio had decided to go scuba-diving on October 23 while they were visiting Catalina Island, the southernmost of California's Channel Islands. Lucky for them, it also happened to be the second day of a mermaid training session at Casino Point on Catalina Island. A professional mermaid performer and diver with six years of experience, Elle Jimenez, 33, of Miami, was instructing an advanced mermaid course that was approved by the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI). "This was my first time teaching the course in California," Jimenez told Fox News Digital.
About noon, Jimenez and her pupils heard a cry, "Help! He blacked out!" a little distance away from the open water training area. Putting on their mermaid fins, Jimenez and her students Elaina Marie Garcia, 26 and Great Chin Burger, 37, leaped into action. Since none of the other mermaids in the class had rescue or instruction certification, only Jimenez, Garcia and Burger could help. Julie Andersen, the global director of brand for PADI Worldwide, who was present during the mermaid class, saw the whole incident. "We safely kept our distance ensuring we did not complicate the situation," Andersen said.
The three-person mermaid pod swam over to Avila and his diver buddies, assisting them in taking off cumbersome diving equipment. "Elaina got to Pablo first and right after Great Chin then me," Jimenez said. "I think we all went on automatic—and our rescue mode turned on."
Garcia said Avila was foaming at the mouth and was unconscious by the time they reached him. "I gave him rescue breaths in the water," Garcia recalled. "My training kicked in and I had the muscle memory I needed to get his scuba gear quickly and efficiently off. Great Chin helped me remove his weights and all the while giving a breath every five seconds." Owner of NATIV Productions and mermaid class photographer Darren Joshua Leonardi captured images of the rescue amidst the mayhem. The pictures show the three mermaids lifting Avila and his scuba tank close to the surface of the Gulf of Santa Catalina. Burger is seen wearing biffins, while Jimenez and Garcia are sporting their trademark mermaid monofins.
Leonardi also assisted the mermaids in bringing Avila to land. "I think we were all meant for these roles and that moment proved we were exactly where we needed to be," Jimenez said. "It has been empowering and humbling at the same time," Jimenez said.
Garcia, who describes herself as a "lifelong mermaid," obtained her diving certification at the age of 14. "I have always been drawn to the water," she said. "It feels surreal to have rescued Pablo like this. I feel so many emotions," she continued. "I’m proud of the way we handled the rescue. It was absolutely a team effort. I also feel a great sense of relief that Pablo survived." She said the incident has helped the three bond, "We will always be friends."
Burger, who has been a freediver for three years and a merman for a year, said it "feels unreal" to have saved someone in a situation that is "supposed to be fun." "We all dived in to help," Burger said. "It feels amazing to know I not only was able to help save someone, but that person recovered well [after] the last time he was in our arms, unconscious and not breathing."
Burger hopes to increase awareness of the mermaid community. "I hope this incident helps the mermaid community get the respect we deserve as well as show others that it is a serious sport," Burger said. "It’s not just pretty tails and smiles, but we can save lives too ... with grace." Avila’s son and a friend said that Avila is recuperating. "We had seen the mermaids before starting our dive. And were thinking how cute they were," said Javier Claramunt, Avila’s son. "Little did we know how well-trained they really are," he said.