2017-07-14 / Neighbors

They rushed to the rescue

Camarillo teens recognized for saving drowning man
By Jessica Waite


QUICK TO ACT—Camarillo residents Sarah Hotchkiss, left, and Natalie Smith, both 14, helped save a drowning man in Avalon Bay off Catalina Island last month. 
BOBBY CURTIS/Acorn Newspapers QUICK TO ACT—Camarillo residents Sarah Hotchkiss, left, and Natalie Smith, both 14, helped save a drowning man in Avalon Bay off Catalina Island last month. BOBBY CURTIS/Acorn Newspapers Two Camarillo girls on vacation in Catalina found their inner heroes last month.

Sarah Hotchkiss and Natalie Smith had been chatting into the early morning hours of June 22 in their sleeping bags on the deck of the Hotchkiss family boat moored in Avalon Bay. The 14-year-olds were just beginning to doze off when they heard someone in trouble.

“It was like 1 a.m. and Sarah was just about to be passed-out asleep, and I was half awake, and I started hearing cries of ‘help,’” Natalie said.

They tried to wake Sarah’s father. Half asleep, he told them it was probably just a prank, but the girls weren’t so sure.

They grabbed a flashlight and hopped into their dinghy, taking to the water in search of the voice. To them it sounded like a young girl.

The teens soon found an elderly woman on a sailboat waving her arms frantically as her husband clung to a small rubber dinghy tied to the boat.

The man, whose head was poking out of the water, was in danger of drowning because his foot was wrapped in a rope attached to the dinghy.

“We didn’t know what to do, so Sarah hopped on the sailboat and asked if she could let the dinghy go,” Natalie said.

The girls thought if the small boat was let loose the man would be able to free himself from the rope.

The woman on the boat said no, so the girls, barely awake and still clad in pajamas, tried to think of another way to rescue him. Natalie was ready to jump into the water if need be, and Sarah set about trying to untangle the man’s leg from the rope.

Unable to untangle him, she was able to give the rope more slack, which allowed him to get his foot free.

With the teens’ help, the man was able to get back on the sailboat.

Moments later, a harbor patrol boat came by while making its rounds, but by then the girls had the man safely out of the water.

“It was scary,” Sarah said. “I felt like his life was in my hands so if I didn’t do something I don’t know what would have happened.”

The girls have no experience with emergency first aid or junior lifeguard training. They followed their instincts and rushed to the rescue.

The next day, harbor patrol gave the girls pins in recognition of their actions. A few days later, the girls were on the island and came across the elderly couple, who were back to enjoying their vacation.

“We are so proud,” said Robin Hotchkiss, Sarah’s mother. “(Natalie and Sarah) just took care of it—they jumped into action.”

The girls will be freshmen at Adolfo Camarillo High School in the fall, and when they return to school, they’ll have a good story to tell.

“It feels amazing,” Natalie said. “I’m proud of myself, and I’m proud of (Sarah).”

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