It was a tragic event, but details had been scarce. Roundfield obviously acted heroically, but a fuller picture would help people understand and remember what Roundfield did.
His widow, Bernie Roundfield, realized that and shared her story with Harvey Araton of The New York Times as a way of honoring Dan:
One possible explanation for what happened, Larmonie said, was that Bernie’s raft had moved too close to the invisible and sometimes shifting boundary while she relaxed.
Unable to reverse direction after her husband called to her, she cried out, “Danny, help me.”
He began to go after her. She saw him walking through chest-high water — not swimming — toward her. As the water heaved around her, she lost sight of him.
Nicole Brandt, a 43-year-old massage therapist, was visiting the island and was on an eight-person day tour. An avid swimmer, she had been in the water, wearing fins and a snorkeling mask. She heard someone calling out in distress.
“I saw a blue raft out there, and I thought, that’s got to be her,” Brandt said by telephone from her home in Austin, Tex. “There was no time to get help, no time to think. I pulled off the mask. I just started swimming as fast as I could. She was just about at the edge of being pulled out to sea.”
Brandt grabbed hold of the raft and began to back-kick in the direction of the beach. Even for someone in excellent physical condition, who swims miles each week, it was difficult and exhausting. The water felt rough even in the shallow area, where she could stand.
Bernie fell when she tried to get off the raft and walk the rest of the way in. Brandt wrapped an arm around her, and they crawled to the sand.
At this point, Bernie assumed Dan would be back on the beach. She thought he must have reversed course, gone for help and perhaps had sent Brandt out to get her. But he was nowhere in sight. While Bernie sat shivering, Brandt ran into a small restaurant to have the police called.
After a short while, the police called in a search team. It took 90 minutes for one of the divers — a teenage boy — to find Dan’s body, one leg pinned under rocks, miraculously held there from going out to sea.
Back in suburban Atlanta, Clyde Mitchell was watching ESPN when the news of his friend’s death broke that night. In disbelief, he called Bernie’s cellphone. She told him how Dan had died trying to save her. He could tell she was overwhelmed with grief, and perhaps guilt. She, in fact, had been treated for shock.
In the hours after the drowning, the coroner told Bernie that Dan’s death had to have happened quickly. There was no stress on his face. A bruise on his head suggested he had hit it on the rocks when engulfed by a wave.
I can’t even begin to comprehend what Bernie is feeling now, but I’m glad she told her story. Dan Roundfield deserves for everyone to understand what he did for his loved one. There’s a powerful lesson here.