“It’s an isolated case.”
This was the reaction of the Coron Tourism Office after a tourist died allegedly due to drowning.
Kim Ablana, Coron tourism officer said the safety and security of tourists is “our top priority.”
According to the accounts of Travis Millard, 24, a Filipino-American who was visiting the victim Miguel Gabriel Ruiz in the Philippines which was published in interaksyon.com said, they were part of an island tour along with three other tourists that day. With them were four boatmen who also served as their tour guides.
The trip was part of a package offered by their hotel, Millard said.
By afternoon, the tourists had reached their last stop after snorkeling at each destination.
Millard said he could see the “roots” from the bottom of the sea at Siete Pecados islands, which looked drained of water, and asked if it was low tide.
A boatman replied in the affirmative but gave no warning although he and his companions had been navigating through the water cautiously, as opposed to going full speed ahead like in the first part of the trip, Millard said.
The tourists then got off the boat wearing life jackets and began to swim.
As he was making his way back to the boat, Millard heard Ruiz call out to him, “Travis!”
“And the way his breath sounded as he called me was sort of like short and exhausted. And he was like, ‘I stepped on something and I’m having trouble breathing!’” Millard recounted.
He swam towards Ruiz and saw the latter struggling with his life jacket. Millard helped Ruiz with it and began rubbing Ruiz’s back, telling him to take slow breaths and relax. Ruiz made no other complaints aside from his breathing, Millard said.
“It sounded like very labored breathing,” he added. This was when he called a boatman for help, with the latter swimming quickly to the pair.
Millard said the boatman chalked up the incident to the day’s snorkeling activities and instructed the pair to sit on the corals where they could relax.
Millard said he had his doubts due to the spikes of the corals and the damage sitting might do on these, but the two followed the instructions.
Ruiz’s breathing became more labored, and the boatman advised him to lie flat on the water, although Ruiz resisted the position. His breathing got worse and he began to exhale “bubbly liquid” through his mouth and nose, Millard said. This was when the boatman whistled to his companions and called out to them, “Double time! Double time!”
Millard said they helped Ruiz to the boat, with the latter able to climb on a ladder and into the boat. The color of his face had changed, he had become quieter, and his breaths grew more distant from one another.
The last words Ruiz spoke to Millard were: “I’m about to pass out.” Millard said Ruiz collapsed, and they lay him on a bench of the boat as the boatmen began to drive to shore. At this point, Millard began giving Ruiz mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
Ruiz vomited during the process, but Millard continued to give oxygen.
“‘Cause in my head he’s just having trouble breathing. As soon as we get to the shore, it’s 2015, we have technology. They’re gonna hook him up to a respirator and he’ll be fine. He’s 25, he’s healthy, this is just a freak incident,” Millard remembered thinking.
Furious and scared because no one else was lending a hand, Millard screamed at his companions to help him. They finally assisted him, checking Ruiz’s pulse and letting Millard know that there was a heartbeat as he continued doing mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
As a clinician, Millard said he knew that any situation of anaphylaxis (acute allergic reaction), time was of the essence. Air needed to pass through the patient’s body.
“I even thought to myself, should I give him an emergency tracheotomy? Should I stab him (in the throat)? The thoughts in my head were just going so quickly,” Millard said.
He was further incensed when the boatmen asked if anyone had a mobile phone and he had to stop giving mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to hand them his phone so they could call the police.
He also lamented that the boatmen seemed more concerned with the state of their boat, which had hit corals in their haste to get to shore, than with Ruiz’s condition.
An ambulance was waiting when they arrived at the shore, but they had to use a plank “maybe the width of my hand” to transport Ruiz from the boat into the vehicle, Millard said.
“It looked like a circus act. His head was hanging back, two very small people were trying to lift this large person, and we were all trying to walk on this maybe six-inch… It was like they didn’t even have the proper transport to move somebody from the boat,” Millard said.
The Coron Municipal Police and Municipal Tourism Office are still waiting for the autopsy report.
“Wala naman pong katotohanan na hindi marurunong ang mga frontliner ng Coron, Palawan sapagkat sagana po ang lokal na pamahalaan, tina-try rin naming ang best namin na mabigyan ng sapat na pagsasanay ang mga ito, patungkol sa pagsagip ng buhay kahit basic po lamang. Bago pa man mabigyan ng working permits, required po sa kanila na dumaan sa first aid at basic life support training,” Ablana said.
She added that they never failed to remind tourists of the presence of jelly fish and stone fish in the sea while they diving, swimming or snorkelling.
Ablana claimed that contrary to the claims of the family of the victim, the tourist guide gave CPR to the victim.
“Nag try sila magbigay ng CPR, pero yung kasamahan ng biktima ay nag insist na siya na lamang gumawa ng CPR, dahil marunong daw po siya,” she added.
Ruiz was declared died upon arrival at the Coron District Hospital.
This will not happen again, Ablana said.