Zachary Johnson Haugen and Jake Vageli Watson

Zachary Johnson Haugen

Two Arizona high school students entered turbulent water on July 3, 2020, to save 18-year-old Thanya Huerta and an 11-year-old girl, who were swept into the Pacific Ocean from a low-lying rocky cliff surrounding a cove off of San Diego. Five-foot waves crashing violently onto partially submerged boulders coupled with a rising tide created a churning effect inside the cove. Seeing the pair in distress, Zachary Johnson Haugen, 16, of Scottsdale, Arizona, a member of his high school swim team, jumped from a cliff into the water. He swam to the pair and grasping the girl and guiding Huerta, he swam toward a low-lying part in the cliff where they could exit the water. A large wave separated him from them and stranded him among the boulders. Haugen called to his friend, Jake Vageli Watson, 15, of Scottsdale, who entered the water and swam to them. Placing the girl on his back he helped Huerta to a ledge and pushed the girl on it. Exiting the water himself, he was unable to pull Huerta from the water, but he held onto her, keeping her head above the surface of the water until lifeguards arrived by boat. Watson then assisted his friend from the boulders and the lifeguards assisted them to safety.

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Jake Vageli Watson, left, pushed an 11-year-old girl, center, out of the tumultuous sea after she was swept off a low-lying cliff in San Diego on July 3, 2020, while the girl’s friend, Thanya Huerta, 18, clings to the rock.
A lifeguard, lower right, swims to the scene to help rescue an 11-year-old girl and her friend, Thanya Huerta, who were swept into the Pacific Ocean July 3, 2020. Jake Vageli Watson entered the water and got both victims to safety, helping the girl onto a ledge and holding Huerta until San Diego lifeguards could arrive and assist.