Higgins & Langley Award Recognizes Four Kayakers

posted May 17, 2011
by Charlie Walbridge

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The Higgins and Langley Memorial Awards honor outstanding achievements in the technical rescue discipline of swiftwater and flood rescue. These are not heroism awards, but rather recognize preparedness, teamwork, and a job well done, often under extreme conditions. The awards were established in 1993 by members of the Swiftwater Rescue Committee of the National Association for Search and Rescue (NASAR) in honor of Earl Higgins, a writer and filmmaker who lost his life in 1980 while rescuing a child who was swept down the flood-swollen Los Angeles River, and Jeffrey Langley, a Los Angeles County Fire Department firefighter-paramedic, who lost his life in a helicopter incident in 1993. This is the first time these awards have been given to recreational whitewater paddlers.

On October 3, 2010 a kayaker seriously injured his cervical spine in a whitewater kayaking incident on the Ocoee River in Tennessee after flippingin a hole at the top of Slice and Dice rapid. Paralyzed and unable to move, he was rescued by four kayakers he had met only 45 minutes before—Michael Howard, Kevin Sipe, Neal Carmack, and Bryant Haley. All were graduates of the American Canoe Association's Swiftwater Rescue Training Program.

Realizing their new companion was in trouble, the kayakers chased him down through two sets of Class II-III rapids and were able to catch and roll him upright just before entering a larger set of rapids. At that point one of the rescuers, trained as a military medic, immobilized his neck while another paddled ahead to phone medical support. The rest got him into an eddy. With help from a passing raft company they evacuated him to the road side, where he was met by an ambulance and subsequently transported by helicopter. This award recognizes the skill, knowledge, and effectiveness of this group in performing this life-saving rescue.