The story of how two men risked their own lives to save a lost girl.
Humboldt State mathematics professor, Christopher Dugaw, Ph.D., received a Coast Guard Meritorious Public Service Medal earlier this month for his assistance in the dangerous rescue of a 14-year-old girl.
“It’s definitely a huge thing to have been able to help somebody like that,” Dugaw said. “It puts you on a real high.”
The rescue took place during a lightning storm on Nov. 22, 2016.
Earlier that day, a teenage girl entered the forest near Ridgewood Heights in Eureka. She called 911 when she realized she was lost.
Dugaw, who lives at the edge of the forest, became concerned when he noticed police cars and a helicopter had been outside of his house for some time. He knew someone must be lost. With the encouragement of his wife, he decided to see what was going on.
“Normally, I feel we can let police do what they do,” Dugaw said, “but it had been so long.”
Outside of his house, Dugaw ran into his neighbor and friend Allan Campbell. Campbell, 37, serves in the Coast Guard Reserve and did active duty for 10 years. The two decided to join efforts with the search and rescue team.
Dugaw and Campbell frequently go running on the trails of the forest, so they both know the area well. They knew that if the girl had wandered off of the trails, she could be in trouble.
It was dark out and pouring rain. Campbell and Dugaw, along with the search and rescue team, searched the area trying to figure out where the girl was by following the sound of her voice.
“Chris got the idea to have the helicopter fly away so we could hear her,” Campbell said.
Finally, they figured out the girl’s location, though they could not see her. They realized she was in a steep ravine surrounded by thick shrubbery.
It was late, wet and cold. They knew the girl might not live if she was left alone, so they began their descent.
“It was getting steeper and thicker,” Dugaw said, “but we could hear her voice.”
They crawled through bushes and mud.
At one point, Dugaw accidentally sliced open his hand, then quickly tore off a piece of his shirt to make a temporary bandage. Campbell was surprised and impressed by Dugaw’s calm, collected demeanor throughout their journey.
“He’s the most unassuming guy,” Campbell said. “But he had grit.”
Dugaw and Campbell finally found the girl, huddled up in the rain. Dugaw gave her an extra sweater and Campbell gave her a rain jacket. After an attempt to crawl back up the steep incline, they realized they could not go back the way they came. It was too dark, too wet and the girl was exhausted. She was also weak and vomiting.
Campbell called for the Coast Guard helicopter to airlift them out. They waited, huddled together for warmth, sharing stories and discussing life and faith.
The three were finally airlifted out of the ravine around 1 a.m., at least five hours after Campbell and Dugaw joined the search. They were flown to St. Joseph’s Hospital in Eureka.
A Coast Guard Admiral presented Dugaw with a medal and award during a ceremony at Air Station Humboldt Bay on March 1, 2018.
“With integrity and courage, Dr. Dugaw accomplished a daunting rescue,” the award reads. “Dr. Dugaw’s unselfish actions and valiant service reflect great credit upon him and are keeping with the highest tradition of humanitarian service.”
Campbell, who recommended Dugaw for the award, was joyful to finally see Dugaw recognized for his efforts.
“It’s an inspiring story in a world that needs inspiring stories,” Campbell said.