Ronald Leon Diggins, 76, formerly of Milton-Freewater, Ore., died Dec. 26. Diggins was awarded the Carnegie Medal in 1969 for saving a worker from the burning structure of an off-shore well in the Gulf of Mexico near Grand Isle, La., on Aug. 21, 1968. The man had climbed to the roof of the structure’s engine house and would not jump into the water, as other workers were doing, for rescue by boat and helicopter. Diggins, then 28, the pilot of one of the responding helicopters, cautiously took his craft perilously close to the structure’s derrick, even though heat-created turbulence made control of it difficult. The man leapt onto one of the helicopter’s pontoons, and Diggins immediately moved the craft away, keeping it tilted to counterbalance the man’s weight. The man was severely burned but recovered.
Ruth Ella Thomas, 84, of SeaTac, Wash., died Dec. 21. She was the widow of Norman J. Thomas, who was posthumously awarded the medal in 1990 in recognition of his July 30, 1989, attempt to save four teenage girls from drowning in the Pacific Ocean at Ocean Park, Wash. In keeping with Andrew Carnegie’s wishes that dependents of those who give their lives for others “should not suffer pecuniarily,” Mrs. Thomas was given periodic assistance to help with living costs.
William R. Wimble, 84, of Valrico, Fla., died April 24, 2016. He was one of five men awarded the medal in 1963 for that year’s Feb. 14 rescue of the driver of a burning race car at the Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway. Wimble, then 31, sustained burns to both hands and wrists in the rescue, during which he and others lifted the overturned vehicle to allow the driver, who was severely burned, to open the car’s door. Others then pulled the driver from the vehicle. Wimble was a storied NASCAR driver who in addition to winning many track championships won the NASCAR point championships in 1960 and 1961. He became “big friends” with the man he helped to rescue, Marvin Panch, who died at age 89 in 2015.