PAUL SMITHS – Three local men received the Boy Scouts of America’s highest heroism award Sunday at Paul Smith’s College for their efforts to save two kayakers’ lives on the Moose River on Oct. 16, 2011.
They did save one. The other, despite extraordinary efforts, they could not.
The men – 21-year-old Lake Placid resident Ian McMullen, 18-year-old Luke Eckert of Brighton and 41-year-old Jason Smith of Saranac Lake – received the Honor Award with Crossed Palms. Fewer than 270 people have ever received this prestigious award, according to Bob Eckert of Paul Smiths, the father of Luke and leader of Boy Scout Troop 12.
Standing in front of an auditorium packed with Boy Scouts, McMullen recalled what he, Smith and Eckert did that day in the southwestern Adirondacks.
McMullen and Eckert were standing on some rocks in the middle of the river, holding onto a throw rope that had just been tied to Smith. They were trying to save the life of a 62-year-old kayaker, Bill De Angelis, who had just gone over a ledge and was unresponsive. With few options, Smith offered to go into the dangerous currents and pull the man out of the water.
In making this decision, Smith was putting his life in the hands of McMullen and Eckert.
“He turns around and looks at Luke, and he looks at me, and he says, ‘You guys better pull me back in,'” McMullen said. “Without another word, without another thought, he turns around and jumps in and swims into the hole.”
Within moments, Smith grabbed the man and pulled him out of the water. Soon after, Eckert and McMullen started performing CPR on the man, attempting to bring him back to life.
But it turned out there was nothing more they could do. De Angelis had suffered a broken neck on his way over the ledge and couldn’t be saved.
This was the second rescue these men had performed that afternoon in the swift Class III rapids. The other had taken place just before. Eckert and McMullen saved Jeff Berger, 48, of Rochester, from going over a roughly 5-foot ledge into a dangerous hole. McMullen had tossed a rope to Berger, who was then pulled to safety by the two young men. Berger later credited them for saving his life.
The three local men had been on a kayaking trip with the Lake Placid Outing Club when the situation arose.
After the incident, the men all credited their training with guiding their actions that day. Eckert and McMullen learned many of their skills in Boy Scouts – both are both Eagle Scouts – while Smith learned his skills through various outdoor courses that helped him become a registered scouting leader.
“It’s a honor because I have spent the last 15 years of my life studying leadership with the American Canoe Association, with the Wilderness Education Association, instructing with the Lake Placid Outing Club, and this shows that all of that has been worth it,” Smith said.
Smith said he was impressed with the actions of Eckert and McMullen that day on the river. He has known them for years and seen them mature as paddlers and young adults.
“In that situation, it definitely means something to be able to trust your paddling partners and know that they are going to know exactly how to act in a very difficult life situation,” Smith said. “There certainly would have been a time in my paddling career with them that I may not have trusted them because they were too young or too inexperienced, but that time has passed, and I know that they are very able, young, responsible paddlers, and they represent the sport and scouting and their community very well. So it means a lot to me to have been a part of that journey with them.”
McMullen said receiving the award was an incredible honor.
“I’m hoping that we can promote and put some good words into scouting by getting this out there a little bit,” he said. “It’s what scouting’s all about. It’s what any of us would do, recognition or not.”
“It kind of means that scouting has had a really positive impact on all of our lives,” he said. “It is a great thing for the community and the youth.”