Matthew James Wilson saved Helen N. Sylvia and two others from drowning, Imperial Beach, California, January 18, 2004. In evening darkness, Helen, 13, and two friends struggled to stay afloat in the extremely rough surf of the Pacific Ocean at a point about 300 feet from shore. Beneath a pier that extended several hundred feet into the ocean, they clung to the pier’s piling as eight-foot breakers battered them. The tide was near high, and currents in the frigid water were strong. Wilson, 31, was on the beach in the vicinity when he was alerted to the situation. A municipal lifeguard in season, he called for help from a nearby lifeguard station, then assembled gear, including a wet suit, fins, and rescue tubes. He responded to a point on the pier from which he saw, by flashlight, one of Helen’s friends clinging to a pile. Although tired from having worked that day as a diver, Wilson jumped 20 feet from the pier into the water, swam to the youth, 13, and, using a rescue tube, towed him to wadable water near shore. Returning to the pier, he saw Helen, likewise clinging to a pile beneath the structure. A second time Wilson jumped into the surf; he swam to Helen, who was entangled in an electrical cord that had been lowered to her as an aid. Wilson too became entangled in the cord, by his feet, and was temporarily hampered. Again using a rescue tube, he took Helen to wadable water. He returned to the pier a second time and looked for the third youth, 12, spotting her after a few minutes at a point about 45 feet from the pier. Wilson jumped a third time from the pier, then swam to the girl, secured her with a tube, and towed her to safety. All three youths received hospital treatment for minor injuries, including abrasions, and they recovered. Wilson recovered from fatigue and minor cuts and bruises.
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