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Governor Awards Medals Of Honor To San Diego Sheriff’s Deputies

Two San Diego County sheriff's deputies were among 13 public safety personnel awarded state Medals of Valor today by Gov. Jerry Brown.

Deputies Scott Bligh and Gary Kneeshaw earned the honor through their efforts in rescuing a pair of hikers from a Lakeside-area wildfire, according to the governor's office.

On Aug. 21, 2010, sheriff's personnel were assisting firefighters with the blaze when they got word that two rock climbers, Meg Rippy and Andre Doria, were stranded on the side of a cliff with fast-moving flames closing in on them.

With Bligh in the pilot's seat, the two deputies lifted off in a sheriff's helicopter to get the climbers out of harm's way. They soon rescued Rippy, but had to temporarily leave behind Doria because gusty winds had started putting the operation in imminent danger.

Kneeshaw stayed in the burn zone with Doria until the helicopter could return. He and Bligh then loaded Doria into a front seat in the aircraft.

With the fire only about 10 feet from the copter's tail rotor, Kneeshaw climbed onto its right skid and yelled to his partner to lift off. Bligh flew the aircraft through and eventually out of the billowing smoke and down to a valley floor with Kneeshaw standing unsecured on the skid for the entire flight.

Bligh, Kneeshaw and the other publicsafety professionals honored by the awards "embody bravery and selflessness," the governor said. "Their actions set an example for all Californians."

The Public Safety Officer Medal of Valor Act of 2003 gives the governor the authority to bestow a Medal of Valor on police and emergency-services personnel cited by the attorney general for service above and beyond the call of duty.

The California Attorney General's Office receives nominations from public safety agencies. The suggestions are then considered by a review board that makes final recommendations for the awards.

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