by Jake Fish
US Sailing will award a Hanson Rescue Medal to sailors Merle Hall (Walnut Creek, Calif.), his son Eric Hall (Alamo, Calif.) and grandsons Henry and Ethan Hall (Alamo, Calif.) for rescuing a woman on San Francisco Bay who was afloat beneath the Golden Gate Bridge in the early morning of April 17, 2011.
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The Halls were sailing out of San Francisco Bay under reefed sails in a chartered 36-foot Beneteau 373 sloop. As they approached the bridge, 14-year-old Ethan saw a splash in the water about 300 yards ahead. Thinking it might be a whale spout, the family sailed in closer as they noticed pedestrians on the bridge approximately 245 feet overhead pointing down to the water. The Halls sailed toward the area until a police boat appeared, racing toward a plume of smoke from a flare near what appeared to be a body. The search had apparently become an obligation to recover this body in the water. As the boat turned toward the victim, the Halls heard sounds from the person floating in the water, who turned out to be a teenage girl.
'We knew we wanted to get hold of the jumper and stabilize her in the water so she wouldn’t drown before the coast guard arrived,' explained Merle. 'Once we got hold of her, we stopped the boat and kept her afloat, but also very still so we didn’t hurt her. This is not your typical man-overboard procedure.'
With Ethan serving as spotter, Merle brought the boat’s Lifesling rescue device on deck and Eric threw a horseshoe life ring in the water, which blew away. After deciding that the Lifesling would not work with a helpless victim, the Halls started the engine, dropped the sails, and motored to the victim. Eric stood on the stern boarding platform and reached out to the victim with a boat hook and pulled her to the boat. They were concerned about causing further damage to the young woman by trying to pull her on board. Merle went below and called the Coast Guard, 15-year-old Henry steered the boat into the wind. While Eric held the girl’s head above water, Ethan held the boathook, keeping the half-drowned, unconscious woman close by but safely away from the turning propeller. When Merle reported that a Coast Guard boat was on the way, Ethan prepared to signal with the boat’s emergency flares.
The Coast Guard boat soon appeared out of a group of several boats looking for the girl at the north end of the bridge. The Coast Guard took the girl on board, and raced to Sausalito, where she was sent to Marin General Hospital. The girl, a 16-year-old from Los Angeles, survived the fall from the Golden Gate Bridge.
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 any other person 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 the U.S. Since it was established in 1990 by friends of the late Mr. Hanson, an ocean-racing sailor from the Chesapeake Bay, the Arthur B. Hanson Rescue Medal has been presented to more than 170 boats. Any individual or organization may submit a nomination for a Hanson Rescue Medal.
US Sailing website