Fast-paced local teen action saves stranger from drowning

by Steven Felschundneff | steven@claremont-courier.com

Most people have wondered at one point: if I was faced with a life and death situation, would I know what to do and could I find the courage to act? For a local teenager, the answer is an unequivocal yes.
Paige Morales, a freshman at Claremont High School, loves the ocean and plans to become a marine biologist. So, to take a leap in her future career, she decided earlier this year to become a certified diver. This decision brought her to a fateful moment.
On September 19, Paige and a host of other dive students boarded a ship in San Pedro Harbor and headed for the coast of Catalina Island. When the boat reached the dive location, it was paired with another diver, Tara Robinson, a common safety practice so no one dives alone. It turns out that Paige and her “buddy,” as the couple are known, were the last to start diving that day.
When it came time for 14-year-old Paige to get down in the water, she couldn’t due to ear pain. She tried several times but it still hurt, so her instructor told her to stay on the surface with her dive buddy.
“Paige and I were the last two divers to wait for the buoy while the others were underwater,” Robinson wrote in a letter about his memories of that day. “Out of the corner of my eye I saw a diver’s fins come out of the water a few inches, they seemed to be waving.”
Out of curiosity, she put her face in the water and saw the diver, described as a woman in her twenties, standing upright and clearly starting to panic.
“I’ll never forget seeing the face of the diver, frantically moving her arms and legs in total panic, seemingly stuck upside down. I looked up and yelled at Paige that the diver was in trouble, then turned to the boat to give a distress signal, ”said Robinson.
The boat was about 60 feet away and those on board, including Paige’s mother Nicole Morales, initially did not realize that Robinson had a real emergency because the diving students were repeating the emergencies this that day.
But once Paige saw the woman in that lying position, she knew something was seriously wrong.
“The diver was desperate and was trying to get rid of her buoyancy control system, BC for short, which contained all of her air. In an emergency, we are taught to remove our BC system which contains your tank. Knowing beforehand that the life jackets are only dropped when you drown, I immediately started swimming towards the diver, ”Paige said in a written account.
By this point, the diver had managed to remove her buoyancy control system, but she was still connected to it by a hose that went to her drysuit. The system, which weighs around 80 pounds, has essentially become an anchor pulling the woman down. Having no air source and still being upright, the diver began to give up.
“So I swam and kept constant eye contact with her and while I was swimming her vest was gone and she was giving it up, and she stopped moving, she gave up. The first thing I did was pump up my [vest] so that if I could save her, I would have a life jacket. And if she started hanging on to me, I wouldn’t drown and we would both be safe, ”Paige said.
Once the inflated vest lifted the pair to the surface, Paige hit the woman’s back to flush water from her lungs and the woman started coughing. Paige then held the woman above the surface while waiting for help with the rescue.
“I hoisted her 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 it to her [the] snorkel to breathe while she spoke calmly to him, ”said Robinson, Paige’s diving buddy. “I have absolutely no doubts that without Paige’s presence of mind and quick action, the diver would surely have 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 a while to collect her energy, according to Paige’s mother. Once on board, the woman retreated to the cabin and slept for the remainder of the trip.
Paige, meanwhile, returned to see her dive instructor for the remainder of her lesson. “She went back to her place, very nonchalant like ‘oh yeah just another day’,” said Nicole Morales.
Due to Paige’s calm demeanor, her mother had no idea what had happened until her daughter returned to the boat. The woman she saved stayed underneath all day and they never spoke. To this day, they do not know his name.
Since that September day, Paige has completed two more dives and is certified for open water and oxygen enriched nitrox air dives. Ironically enough, she has yet to receive stress and rescue certification because instructors want her to perform tests in a swimming pool.
“I’ve had other experiences similar to this one, but it’s not as hectic or life-changing as this one,” Paige said.
As it turns out, the “other time” was earlier this summer, when she was vacationing with her family at a place called Slide Rock State Park in Arizona, named after an 80-foot slippery chute. long that has been worn into the sandstone. .
“There was this little boy and he really wanted to go, and his parents let him. But he really couldn’t swim well. There’s a part where it goes from shallow to deep, so that threw him and I jumped in the water and pulled him out and took him to his parents, ”Paige said.
“She is an excellent swimmer and she acts quickly,” replied Nicole.
Paige didn’t receive much recognition for her bravery, although she and this woman are lifelong with the memories of that day. There’s a plan going on for Paige to be honored by her Girl Scout troop.
“I just took action as soon as I saw that she was in danger, because before that I had taken a lot of rescue and CPR courses. So I felt like I had enough knowledge to know how to react and how to save this lady, ”Paige said.