Local teen’s quick action saves drowning stranger

Claremont High School freshman Paige Morales saved a woman from drowning during a scuba diving trip in September. Paige and buddy diver Tara Robinson noticed another scuba diver, was in a prone position and was panicked. Paige immediately went into action helping the woman to the surface and clearing her lungs of water. COURIER photo/Steven Felschundneff

by Steven Felschundneff | steven@claremont-courier.com

Most people have at some time wondered: If faced with a life or death situation would I know what to do and could I muster the courage to act? For one local teen the answer is an unequivocal yes.
Claremont High School freshman Paige Morales loves the ocean and plans to become a marine biologist. So, to get a jump on her future career, she decided earlier this year to become a certified scuba diver. This decision brought her to a fateful moment.
On September 19, Paige and a host of other scuba students, boarded a ship in San Pedro harbor and headed to the coast of Catalina Island. When the boat reached the dive location she was paired up with another diver, Tara Robinson, a common safety practice so that no one dives alone. As it turns out, Paige and her “buddy,” as the pairing is called, were the last to begin the dive that day.
When it came time for Paige, 14, to descend in the water, she couldn’t due to pain in her ear. She tried several times but it still hurt, so her instructor told her to just remain on the surface with her dive buddy.
“Paige and I were the last two divers left at the buoy waiting while the others were underwater,” Robinson wrote in a letter about her recollections of that day. “Out of the corner of my eye I saw a diver’s fins sticking up out of the water a few inches, they seemed to be flailing around.”
Out of curiosity, she put her face in the water and saw the diver, described as a woman in her 20s, in a vertical position and clearly beginning to panic.
“I will never forget seeing the diver’s face, frantically moving her arms and legs in a full panic, seemingly stuck upside down. I lifted my head and yelled to Paige that the diver was in trouble, then turned to the boat to give a distress signal,” Robinson said.
The boat was about 60 feet away and those on board, including Paige’s mother Nicole Morales, initially did not realize that Robinson had an actual emergency because the dive students were rehearsing emergency situations that day.
But once Paige saw the woman in that prone position she knew something was terribly wrong.
“The diver was in despair and trying to ditch her buoyancy control system, BC for short, which contains all of her air. In an emergency situation we are taught to remove our BC system which contains your tank. With the prior knowledge that BCs are only ditched when you are drowning, I immediately started swimming over to the diver,” Paige said in a written account.
At this point the diver had successfully removed her buoyancy control system, but she was still connected to it through a hose that went to her dry suit. The system, which weighs about 80 pounds, essentially became an anchor dragging the woman down. Having no air source and still being vertically upside down, the diver began to give up.
“So I swam over and I kept constant eye contact with her and while I was swimming her BC was gone and she was ditching it, and she stopped moving, she gave up. The first thing I did was I inflated my [vest] so that if I was able to save her, I had a life vest on. And if she started clinging onto me I wouldn’t drown and we would both be safe,” Paige said.
Once the inflated vest lifted the pair to the surface, Paige pounded the woman’s back to clear water from her lungs, and the woman began to cough. Paige then held the woman above the surface while waiting for help with the rescue.
“I hoisted her up as far as I could above the water for five minutes, which felt like the longest five minutes of my life,” Paige said.
“Suddenly I heard Paige surface behind me with the distressed diver clinging to her. I saw and heard Paige give her [the] snorkel to breathe through as she spoke calmly to her,” Robinson, Paige’s dive buddy, said. “I am absolutely convinced the if it was not for Paige’s presence of mind and quick action that diver would have surely drowned.”

Once a crew from the dive boat arrived, they took over the rescue efforts and returned the woman to the ship. She stayed on a surface level platform for some time collecting her energy, according to Paige’s mother. Once aboard, the woman retreated to the cabin and slept for the remainder of the trip.
Paige, on the other hand, returned to her dive instructor for the remainder of her lesson. “She went back to her spot, very nonchalant like, ‘oh yeah just another day,’” Nicole Morales said.
Because of Paige’s calm demeanor, her mother had no idea what happened until her daughter returned to the boat. The woman she saved stayed below all day and they never spoke. To this day they do not know her name.
Since that day in September, Paige has completed two more dives and is certified for open water and oxygen-enriched air nitrox dives. Somewhat ironically, she has not yet received the stress and rescue certification because the instructors want her to perform tests in a swimming pool.
“I have had other experiences similar to this but it’s not as eventful or life changing as this one,” Paige said.
As it so happens that “other time” was earlier this summer when she was on vacation with her family at a place called Slide Rock State Park in Arizona, which is named for a 80 foot-long slippery chute that has been worn into the sandstone.
“There was this little boy and he really wanted to go, and his parent allowed him. But he really did not know how to swim well. There is a part where it goes from shallow all the way to deep, so that threw him off and I jumped in the water and got him out and took him to his parents,” Paige said.
“She is a great swimmer and she acts quickly,” Nicole replied.
Paige has not received much recognition for her act of bravery, although she and that woman are bonded for life with the memories of that day. There is a plan in the works for Paige to be honored by her Girl Scout troop.
“I just jumped into action as soon as I saw she was in danger because prior to this I had taken many different rescue and CPR classes. So I felt I had enough knowledge to know how to react and how to save this lady,” Paige said.


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