Soldotna man honored for 2000 river rescue

Posted: Friday, May 16, 2003

ANCHORAGE (AP) A woman survived a jump off the Sterling Highway Bridge in Soldotna three years ago thanks to three off-duty Coast Guard officers and a lodge owner who came to her rescue.

The Coast Guard last week awarded lodge owner Doug Green its Meritorious Public Service Award and medal. Green helped pull the woman out of the frigid, fast Kenai River.

The three Coast Guard officers, Lts. John Humpage, David Savatgy and Eirik Kellogg, were based in Juneau but assigned to the Kenai Peninsula for work on navigation aids equipment on Sept. 11, 2000.

''We were off duty and were doing some flyfishing on the river behind the hotel we staying at,'' Humpage said by phone from a training facility in Yorktown, Va. ''We were trying for silvers. All we were catching were pinks that had already turned.''

Fishing just below the bridge, they heard a splash and turned to look.

A woman, apparently attempting suicide, had jumped 30 feet down to the river. Her windbreaker, however, filled with air. Humpage thought it might be a personal flotation device, or a dummy, or someone who had jumped and intended to swim.

''We thought it was someone playing a joke,'' he said. ''Then something clicked in our heads.''

Kellogg was closest to the bridge. He ran to the lodge to call 9-1-1.

Savatgy tried swimming to the woman but was turned back.

Humpage, then 24, wearing neoprene chest waders and farthest downstream, headed into the river after the woman.

Leery of standing in strong current, he had donned a wading belt. When water started pouring over his waders, he cinched the belt tighter to try to keep it out.

What was he thinking as he swam?

''To be honest with you, not much. I was hoping that the current would carry her closer to where I was. I was hoping the current would catch her in an eddy. That's what happened.''

He swam downstream until the river slightly narrowed and he could reach the woman.

''I grabbed her by the ankle,'' he said. ''That was the closest part of her body.''

He does not remember how far from shore she was perhaps a third of the way into the river.

He towed the woman to shallow water and tried to stand in the swift current.

''I was digging my heels in and getting drug downstream,'' he said.

He's not sure he could have gotten the woman out of the water by himself, but at that point Green and Savatgy had run downstream 200 yards from the bridge and plunged in beside him. They lifted the woman to safety. An ambulance took her to a local hospital.

The woman was in the 40-degree water about two minutes. Humpage, who fished below the bridge just twice, never learned the woman's name.

Green, now 38, the co-owner of Kenai River Lodge, told the Peninsula Clarion he later learned the woman had been distraught.

''About three weeks later, I heard her on the radio,'' Green said.

''She said she wanted to thank those who saved her life and said she now really values life,'' he said.

Humpage was recognized by his employers with the Silver Lifesaving Medal, an honor often given to civilians and sometimes to Coast Guard personnel who perform rescues off duty. He is now assigned to the Marine Safety Office in Los Angeles.



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