Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Watch Live


Two Arizona high schoolers to receive Carnegie Medal for Sunset Cliffs rescue

People watching the high surf at Sunset Cliffs in San Diego County. Jan. 9, 2021.
Tarryn Mento
People watching the high surf at Sunset Cliffs in San Diego County. Jan. 9, 2021.

Two Arizona high school students who rescued a pair of drowning people in the waters off Sunset Cliffs will be awarded the Carnegie Medal, which recognizes civilians who perform acts of heroism, it was announced Tuesday.

Zachary Johnson Haugen and Jake Vageli Watson have been recognized for the July 3, 2020, rescue of an 18-year-old woman and an 11-year-old girl who were swept into the ocean, according to a statement from the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission.

Haugen, then 16 and a licensed lifeguard for the city of Phoenix, is credited with jumping into the water and guiding the victims to a low-lying cliff area where they could exit the water.


A wave then separated him from the others, leading him to call to his friend Watson, then 15. Watson swam to the victims, pushed the girl onto a ledge, then held onto the woman and kept her above the water's surface until a lifeguard boat arrived, according to the commission.

RELATED: Compromise reached on air quality regulations for sport fishing boats

A July 2020 article in the Phoenix Independent described Haugen and Watson as best friends since third grade who were vacationing in San Diego for the Fourth of July weekend.

The pair are among 18 people recognized for the 2022 Carnegie Medal, North America's highest honor for civilian heroism.

KPBS has created a public safety coverage policy to guide decisions on what stories we prioritize, as well as whose narratives we need to include to tell complete stories that best serve our audiences. This policy was shaped through months of training with the Poynter Institute and feedback from the community. You can read the full policy here.