Civil Air Patrol Cadet Evan Yanagihara, 17, received an award for saving the life of his friend and fellow cadet, Anthony Smith, at a meeting of a local squadron of CAP on April 26.
Both teens are El Dorado Hills residents.
The award was for a life threatening event that happened on July 28 of last year when Yanagihara and Smith went to a local jumping spot on the American River in Folsom called “China Wall.” To jump from the spot, you need a running start to clear the sloped cliff and then land in the water which is 50 feet below.
Smith decided that he wanted to jump from an a tree that hung over the cliff which would give him another 10 feet of fall. Unfortunately, he slipped and fell out of the tree, hitting rocks at the water’s edge. The impact knocked the wind out of him and propelled him into the river.
Smith later learned that the fall resulted in his breaking both ankles and heels, the severing of his right foot almost in half with additional tissue damage to his left foot, and the loss of a third of his blood.
Initially Yanigihara didn’t know anything was wrong until he heard his friend call for help. Then he made his way down a steep trail, dove into the water and swam 20 feet to where Smith was clinging to the side of the cliff.
Smith had previously asked for help from some nearby kayakers but they didn’t respond. However, when Yanigihara arrived, he used his “command” voice to order one of them to come over and assist. With limited help from the kayakers, Yanigihara pulled Smith to shore.
At that point Yanigihara noticed that Smith was losing a lot of blood. People at the top of the cliff helped by throwing down T-shirts which Yanigihara used as tourniquets. Yanigihara was also helped by a stranger who swam over and assisted in caring for Smith.
Yanigihara continued talking to his friend throughout the ordeal to keep him alert and conscious. After about 45 minutes, a rescue boat arrived and transported Smith to the hospital.
Yanigihara said the incident was, “probably the most emotionally crazy time of my life. We’re having fun and all of a sudden everything changed. I was very worried about him and his recovery. It was traumatizing to see what happened to my friend.”
Yanigihara credits CAP for saving Smith’s life. “If it weren’t for my previous training in Civil Air Patrol, specifically from Cadet Survival School teaching me how to think clearly in stressful situations, I would not have been able to make the proper decisions that I had.”
Evan’s father, Aaron Yanigihara, who is a captain in CAP and commander of the Eugene L. Carnahan Cadet Squadron 85, said, “I was very shaken up when I heard what happened. But very proud my son was able to put together everything he had learned. The accident actually happened on a CAP meeting night and Evan wanted to go. But his mother and I told him to stay home. Instead Evan went to the hospital where his friend was and waited the entire night for Evan’s mother to arrive. Unfortunately, she happened to be on out-of-town on a business trip.”
On hand for the presentation were members of both families, including Anthony Smith, his brother, and his mother Nicole. While Anthony is still on the mend and uses a cane to walk, he was smiling as he hugged his friend for saving his life.
Presenting the Life Saving Award at the CAP meeting was Maj. Joyce Pennybaker, a group commander who came specifically for the event.
“As children get older they want to spread their wings and parents know what good and bad things kids can get into,” Pennybaker said. “Evan displayed the utmost of what Civil Air Patrol is about — rescue services and leadership. Everything you learn in CAP you can use the rest of your life. Evan, today I want to present you with this Life Saving Award and to say thank you as a mom and also thank you for doing this good deed.”
Nicole Smith closed out the ceremony by saying. “I’m so thankful I have my son. He lost 30 percent of his blood. Without the tourniquets he wouldn’t be here today. Most people don’t survive a 60 foot fall. I can’t thank Evan enough and his family for saving my son. You stayed with him and talked to him. Evan even gathered Anthony’s belongings afterwards and called to find the hospital where Anthony was taken. Everyone in family was out of town and Anthony was all alone. Evan was there when we couldn’t be. In real life, one misstep can change your life forever. I want to thank CAP for teaching kids to keep a level head and how to get through a crisis.”
Capt. Yanigihara said that 95 percent of what they do in CAP is search and rescue missions for the U.S. Air Force. The all-volunteer program has 60,000 members, half of whom are cadets.