EAST HONOLULU, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - An Arizona visitor is being recognized for risking his life to save a stranger while on vacation in Hawaii. Lifeguards said Spitting Caves is an extremely dangerous spot, and they're warning people not to jump into the ocean.
Guillermo Arrubla has some scratches on his arms after his visit to Spitting Caves with his son on Saturday. After seeing the strong current, they decided not to jump in. A short time later, however, he saw a woman in her 20's from Schofield run into trouble after going into the ocean.
"She tried to climb up on the rocks, the current basically always crashed on her and then the current pulled her back out," recalled Arrubla.
Arrubla said her friend unsuccessfully tried to save her. While someone called 911, a resident brought over two life jackets. Meanwhile, the current had pushed the woman 75 to 100 yards out to sea.
"It's what we call an unguarded beach so we don't have a lifeguard tower here, and we really discourage people from coming here in the first place, but we do get 911 calls, people in the water, they jump off the cliff and they can't get back out of the water," said Lt. J.R. Sloane from the Ocean Safety and Lifeguard Services Division.
While the woman clung to a beach ball that was tossed to her, Arrubla put on one of the vests and went in. The Phoenix police officer said he worked as a lifeguard more than 20 years ago.
"I knew I had just seconds before the next wave would crash in on me. I didn't want to get caught in between the rocks so I just sprinted out as fast as I could with the vest over my shoulder," Arrubla explained. "You could see she was exhausted at that point. She had been treading water approximately 20, 25 minutes at that point."
Arrubla put the other life jacket on her and they waited for lifeguards on jet skis to pick them up. Ocean Safety officials presented him with an Award of Merit on Sunday for his heroic actions.
"When people are in the open ocean like that it becomes very ominous. It looks refreshing and inviting maybe from up top the cliffs, but when in you're in that water and rough seas, it's extremely dangerous," said Sloane.
"I saw a lot of people with their cell phones out. I'm not going to sit here and watch a young girl drown right before us. I just figured somebody has got to do something," said Arrubla.
While lifeguards appreciate Arrubla's efforts, they want to discourage others who don't have the right training or equipment from attempting such a difficult rescue.