Altruism in Action: Japanese Surfer Hero Rescues His Wife, Mother and Others

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Rick Westhead/The Toronto Star/ZUMAPRESS.com

In case you still had doubts about the way natural disasters can bring out the best in people, consider the heroic actions of Hideaki Akaiwa.

On March 11, Akaiwa was several miles away at work when the tsunami flooded his town — where his wife was — with up to 10 feet of water. The 43-year-old Japanese man, who met his wife of 20 years while surfing in a local bay, wasn’t about to lose her to any type of wave. Unwilling to wait for authorities to act, Akaiwa put on a wetsuit and scuba gear, dove into the freezing, cloudy water, and headed for the site of his former home. (More on TIME.com: How Disasters Promote Altruism)

He swam amidst dangerous debris like shattered cars, downed electrical lines and collapsed buildings. “The water felt very cold, dark and scary,” he told the Los Angeles Times. “I had to swim about 200 yards to her, which was quite difficult with all the floating wreckage.”

Akaiwa located his wife in their destroyed house, saving her life. But that’s not all. Several days later, having been unable to find his mother at local shelters, he went wading back into the water and made a similar rescue, locating his mother trapped on the second floor of her flooded house.

And he didn’t stop there: Akaiwa continues to search for survivors who may need help, according to the Toronto Star. (More on TIME.com: What Makes A Hero)

Calamities and catastrophes bring many human tragedies, but research shows that they are also the occasion for widespread acts of altruism and heroism — much more so than for panicked, selfish behavior or chaos. A love like Akaiwa’s is worth celebrating.

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