Sailors awarded medals for lake rescue

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US Sailing awarded the Hanson Rescue Medal to two crews who saved three lives July 23, 2010 during an incident on Huntington Lake near Fresno, Calif.

A day before the 2010 Huntington Lake Yacht Club's annual regatta, Don Whelan and his crew, in their 18-foot Mercury Class racing sailboat, were practicing against a boat skippered by Richard Whiteley and his crew. Their tune-up exercises ended when they heard shouts for help from the water in the distance.

"As we approached the swimmers, the first decision was how do we get each of them a flotation device," Whelan said in a statement. "They all looked tired and struggling to stay afloat. We had two cushions, and one of us took our own life jacket off and threw something to each of them."

Whelan circled back immediately, and on the second pass the three swimmers were grabbed as they held on to the leeward side of the boat in the 55-degree water.

While the swimmers were holding on to the boat, the rescuers retrieved one of the cushions, laid it on the deck and lifted the first swimmer's body onto the cushion. The remaining swimmers were more fatigued, so the rescuers tipped the boat as much as possible to get the rail closer to the water and lift the swimmers onto the cushion and into the boat. The cushion served as a slide that quickly and securely helped to get the swimmers over the rail and into the cockpit.

"It all happened so quickly. We responded with common sense and instinct," Whelan said.

The Arthur B. Hanson Rescue Medal is awarded by US Sailing's Safety-at-Sea Committee to any person who rescues or endeavors to rescue someone from drowning, shipwreck or other perils at sea within the territorial waters of the United States or as part of a sailboat race or voyage that originated or stopped in this country.

The medal has been presented to more than 170 boats since it was established in 1990. Thirty-six lives have been saved during the most recent 19 Hanson award-winning rescues.

Any individual or organization can submit a nomination for a Hanson Rescue Medal.

Click here for information.

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