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2001 Surf Festival Dinner Honorees

 

 

2001 Medal of Valor Honorees

 

Ocean Lifegaurd Captain Eric Albertson

Last winter, Erik Albertson was working the early shift at Del Rey South in Dockweiler State Beach. The waves were enormous (double overhead and several waves to each set) and the water was 52 degrees. Due to the huge swell, he decided to take his patrol toward the El Segundo Jetty in case there were surfers in the area.

 

Arriving in the area, he was greeted by people on the beach waving their arms and pointing toward a surfer sitting on a board at the end of a rip current off the jetty. They indicated he had been out there for about 20 minutes and could not get in.

 

Erik realized that the only way to get out through the surf would be to swim out through the middle of the rip and then assist the surfer back in. He quickly reached the young man who was scared, cold, and didn’t know what to do.

 

Erik did not want to take the victim back in through the pounding waves and started to head out. At that point, he came to realize that he had actually gone out through a relative lull. 15-foot waves began to break 30-50 yards outside the jetty. There was no chance to get to the outside. The situation called for plan “B” to be put into effect.

 

The first order of business was to get away from the rocks as fast as possible. Next was to secure the victim. This proved impossible as the huge waves began to hit them. The two were simply ripped apart by the force of each wave. There was just enough time between each wave to allow Erik to grab the victim, swim toward shore and prepare to be hammered again.

 

After being hit by at least eight of these monster waves, Erik and the surfer made it to shore where they were assisted by Brian Merrigan and Phil Topar. The victim, although very cold and scared, was incredibly thankful.

 

Erik was very reflective about the incident. He says it didn’t feel very heroic, just scary. That doesn’t do justice to the water skills and knowledge he put into play in order to save the life of a young surfer and personally survive the ordeal himself.

Ocean Lifeguard Specialist Greg Hall

Last August, Greg Hall was working as the deckhand on Baywatch Cabrillo with skipper Paul Pifer. They were on a patrol in the Los Angeles Harbor when they heard 5 blasts on the horn of a tug --- the universal distress signal. They immediately moved to the area and witnessed a frightening scene.

 

Two tugs were tightly bound to a fully loaded freighter and moving as one unit up the main channel of the harbor at about 8 knots. Directly in their path was a disabled PWC and its rider. The watercraft was dead in the water, out of gas.

 

Although the Baywatch sped toward the scene, there was no time to hook a line and tow the craft and rider to safety. At the same time, the tugs were doing everything they could to turn the freighter and “jog” around the craft and rider. They were partially successful. The container ship was turned just enough to avoid a direct collision but the tug hit the PWC and its rider. The rider flew up and bounced several times against the side of the tug.

 

At that point, Greg Hall reacted to a swimmer in trouble. In spite of the obvious personal danger, he dove in and raced to the victim. He quickly arrived and then realized what he was up against.

 

He was next to the enormous side of the freighter and was convinced that he was going to be swept under the stern and chewed up by the props of the giant ship. In his words, he was scared. Holding the victim with one arm, he used his other arm and legs to furiously swim away from the ship toward the Baywatch. He reached the Baywatch, grabbed the swim step and yelled to Paul to go.

 

The ship and tugs moved on down the channel and the victim, bruised but otherwise OK, was pulled aboard Baywatch and along with his badly damaged PWC, was taken to shore and safety.

Ocean Lifeguard Specialist Jay Hopkins

About 11:00 pm last July, Merrill Reilly, had completed his shift as the swing Captain in Central Section, and was walking out the door to go home. At that moment, the lifeguards received a call from the police. They had responded to a 911 call at 10:45 pm from a young man who said his friend was in trouble in the Avenues in Venice. It had taken them a while to realize that, in fact, it was water related --- a swimmer was missing.

 

Merrill, Pat Jones, and Ryan Addison raced from the Santa Monica Headquarters to lead an eventual rescue operation that included the L. A. City Police Department, their helicopter, the L. A. City Fire Dept. Paramedics, the Santa Monica Harbor Patrol, and the L. A. County Lifeguard Rescue Boat, Baywatch Del Rey.

 

A few minutes after 11:00 pm, three lifeguards who had been at dinner and were returning to their car in the Venice parking lot, saw the operation, looked at each other, and said, “let’s help.” These lifeguards were Jay Hopkins, Eric Astourian, and Lauren Dale.

 

 It had been determined that 4 young people, 2 girls and 2 boys had gone to the beach that evening and the 2 boys had gone for a swim. While swimming, one of the boys heard his friend screaming for help. After a while, the screams for help stopped. The one boy raced to shore, and make a very emotional 911 call for help. Obviously, at least 30 minutes had passed since he heard the screams for help. The situation was grim.

 

Jay, Eric and Lauren changed their clothes and entered the water to search for the boy. Jay had worked and surfed the area for a few years and knew how the currents worked, were the rip pulled and where it would take a victim.

 

Jay followed his instincts and worked an area further south toward Avenue 19, about 150 yards off shore. He was on a rescue board, carrying a rescue tube and strobe light. Although 4-5 foot waves were pounding the shore, the sea was glassy and there was little wind. He could hear sounds of people talking on the beach.

 

All of the sudden he heard a faint sound, slightly more than a whisper, calling for help. He began to move toward the sound, sweeping his strobe light back and forth. And then he saw him. Or rather he saw lips and fingertips. It was the young man’s last gasp for life. Jay jumped off the board, wrapped the tube around the victim and with a cross-chest carry brought the barely conscious victim in through the surf. Eric Astourian saw the rescue board was up on shore, realizing what was happening and came out to help Jay bring the victim to safety.

 

Paramedics took the boy, who had been in the water for about an hour, to the hospital. After two days, it was determined that he was OK and he was released. The only reason he is alive today is because of the actions of these lifeguards. They responded to an emergency situation and put their skills to use to save a life.

 

All three lifeguards responded to a situation above and beyond the call of duty.

 

For their response to the emergency situation and their demonstration of well-learned skills, the Distinguished Service Award is presented to Lauren Dale and Eric Astourian.

 

For his efforts in saving the life of a young man, The Medal of Valor Award is presented to Jay Hopkins.

 

2001 Distinquished Service Honoree

Ocean Lifeguard Lauen Dale

Ocean Lifeguard Eric Astourian

About 11:00 pm last July, Merrill Reilly, had completed his shift as the swing Captain in Central Section, and was walking out the door to go home. At that moment, the lifeguards received a call from the police. They had responded to a 911 call at 10:45 pm from a young man who said his friend was in trouble in the Avenues in Venice. It had taken them a while to realize that, in fact, it was water related --- a swimmer was missing.

 

Merrill, Pat Jones, and Ryan Addison raced from the Santa Monica Headquarters to lead an eventual rescue operation that included the L. A. City Police Department, their helicopter, the L. A. City Fire Dept. Paramedics, the Santa Monica Harbor Patrol, and the L. A. County Lifeguard Rescue Boat, Baywatch Del Rey.

 

A few minutes after 11:00 pm, three lifeguards who had been at dinner and were returning to their car in the Venice parking lot, saw the operation, looked at each other, and said, “let’s help.” These lifeguards were Jay Hopkins, Eric Astourian, and Lauren Dale.

 

 It had been determined that 4 young people, 2 girls and 2 boys had gone to the beach that evening and the 2 boys had gone for a swim. While swimming, one of the boys heard his friend screaming for help. After a while, the screams for help stopped. The one boy raced to shore, and make a very emotional 911 call for help. Obviously, at least 30 minutes had passed since he heard the screams for help. The situation was grim.

 

Jay, Eric and Lauren changed their clothes and entered the water to search for the boy. Jay had worked and surfed the area for a few years and knew how the currents worked, were the rip pulled and where it would take a victim.

 

Jay followed his instincts and worked an area further south toward Avenue 19, about 150 yards off shore. He was on a rescue board, carrying a rescue tube and strobe light. Although 4-5 foot waves were pounding the shore, the sea was glassy and there was little wind. He could hear sounds of people talking on the beach.

 

All of the sudden he heard a faint sound, slightly more than a whisper, calling for help. He began to move toward the sound, sweeping his strobe light back and forth. And then he saw him. Or rather he saw lips and fingertips. It was the young man’s last gasp for life. Jay jumped off the board, wrapped the tube around the victim and with a cross-chest carry brought the barely conscious victim in through the surf. Eric Astourian saw the rescue board was up on shore, realizing what was happening and came out to help Jay bring the victim to safety.

 

Paramedics took the boy, who had been in the water for about an hour, to the hospital. After two days, it was determined that he was OK and he was released. The only reason he is alive today is because of the actions of these lifeguards. They responded to an emergency situation and put their skills to use to save a life.

 

All three lifeguards responded to a situation above and beyond the call of duty.

 

For their response to the emergency situation and their demonstration of well-learned skills, the Distinguished Service Award is presented to Lauren Dale and Eric Astourian.

 

For his efforts in saving the life of a young man, The Medal of Valor Award is presented to Jay Hopkins.

Ocean Lifeguard Mike Huwe

As we were about to gather last year for the Medal of Valor dinner, Mike Huwe was working 8th Street Lifeguard Tower near the Manhattan Beach Pier. The surf was big with waves in the range of 4-6 feet. The guards had been busy making rescues all day.

 

One of the Manhattan Beach Recreation Department youth programs is located at 8th Street. Shortly after 4:00 pm, Mike noticed three young children standing in the water near a rip current. His instincts and his knowledge about the ocean set off warning signals and he began to move immediately toward the children. He was already in the water as the rip started to pull. Massive amount of water began to fill the area and move out to sea.

 

Five other girls, also unable to keep from being swept into the current, started screaming for help Mike immediately swam to the five girls, handed them his rescue can and told them to hang on and not to let go no matter what. He then swam to the three victims further out just as a huge set came through. He used the force of the waves to help push the girls toward the shore.

 

In spite of being worked over by the waves himself, he managed to keep the victims moving toward shore until joined by Lifeguards Greg Groves and Craig Douglas who helped move the children to shallow water. As many as 9 lifeguards in all joined in this massive rescue that late afternoon.

2001 Lifetime Achievment Honoree

 

Lifeguard Chief Howard Lee

 

Howard Lee is the recipient of the 2001 Los Angeles County Lifeguard Achievement award. In a career spanning almost four decades, Howard’s impact on professional lifesaving was felt not only through L.A. County, but also on the national and international level.  Howard took the Lifeguard exam in 1953.  In 1956 he was promoted to a permanent position and worked the next ten years at Zuma beach.  He was promoted to Captain in 1968 and rose to the level of Chief Lifeguard in 1970.

 

On the heavily populated beaches of Zuma, he initiated the concept of prevention; working with the public to prevent dangerous situations before they became rescues.  The philosophy grew and now over 1 million preventions fake place each year and the philosophy is an integral part of the U.S. Lifeguard training manual.  Howard was very committed to physical fitness and competition, not only to improve the health and safety of the lifeguards, but as a means of refining lifeguard skills.  This vision was so respected that the United States Lifesaving Association’s (USLA) national trophy now bears his name. 

 

Howard developed the first inter-agency training between the United States Coast Guard and County lifeguards.  This relationship between the two agencies has grown into a widely copied model of joint local and federal cooperation.  It has also resulted in the timely and safe rescue of literally thousands of distressed boaters.

 

Howard witnessed fantastic changes in beach lifeguarding during his career.  He was extremely dedicated to his job and his work ethic set the bar very high for his subordinates to emulate.  Howard always stated that his goal was to leave the lifeguard service better than he found it.  Chief Howard Lee did just that.