Havens Family Honored For Life Saving Effort
Reposted with permission from the Battle Creek Enquirer. Their Web post, available through December 24, includes photos and video from the award ceremony.)
Albion family honored for heroics
Four get American Red Cross Certificate of Merit
Andy Fitzpatrick • The Enquirer • December 18, 2009
When the Havens family of Albion was vacationing in Hawaii in June of 2009, they didn't plan on becoming heroes.
Keith and Susan Havens, along with their sons Zaak and Zane, were taking in the beauty of Larsen's Beach on the island of Kauai when they spotted a man and a woman in the water calling for help.
It was the beginning of a series of events that eventually culminated Thursday in the family of four receiving the American Red Cross Certificate of Merit in a ceremony at the United Way of Greater Battle Creek.
"We looked out, and there's this couple waving and hollering out there quite a bit from shore," Keith Havens said. "I said, 'Sue, we should go out and swim where they're doing it. It looks like they're having a good time. They're hootin' and hollerin'.' She said, 'Keith, they're calling for help.'
Keith, an Albion College swimming coach, immediately sprang into action, diving into the crystal-clear waters of Larsen's Beach.
Zaak Havens, 19, and Zane Havens, 21, both Albion College swim team members, spotted their father swimming out to the couple and followed suit.
According to the Havens, the beach is not protected by a lifeguard, but warnings about its notorious rip current are found in guidebooks.
Keith Havens said a 30- to 40-foot-deep channel cut through coral reef is affected by waves that keep swimmers and snorkelers either in the current, being pulled out to sea, or pushed into sharp, cutting coral rock when they try to swim out of it.
"This was happening to the guy," Keith Havens said, "he was trying to get to the side and he was just getting cut up by the coral. There was pretty good wave action.
"In the water, the three men worked out their course of action in rescuing the couple, who they later learned were newlyweds and lived in Hawaii. The dad would swim to the woman and pull her back to the beach, while the sons would rescue the man and take him to a coral mound where he could rest safely and tend to his cut legs.
While their father thought briefly that a shark attack might be the cause of the trouble, none of the Albion swimmers paused.
"I wasn't really thinking about sharks or anything, which is something that probably should have crossed my mind," Zane Havens said. "I just saw people out there. I said, 'You know, these people need help. I'm going to go out there and see what I can do to help them.'"
Meanwhile, back on the beach, Susan Havens retrieved a rescue tube left hanging on a nearby tree and waited for her husband to pull the woman to safety. She said she had faith in Keith Havens' skills and the training he gave their children.
"I trusted him, because he's the one that knows," she said. "He's trained them. He knows what they're capable of."
"These guys are very confident swimmers" Keith Havens said. "I figured that the worst that could happen to them, if it wasn't a shark, is that they would get swept a mile or two out to sea. They can swim for hours, so I wasn't too worried about them."
Soon, Keith Havens had relayed the woman to his wife while Zaak and Zane Havens got the man to the coral mound. Keith Havens then turned around, retrieved the man and swam him back to shore while his sons made their way back.
He said it was rough going, occasionally having to claw the coral to pull himself along against the current.
Susan Havens chalked the rescue, which took about 15 minutes, up to not only Keith Havens' skills as a swim coach, but also Red Cross training.
A Red Cross press release said the tired-swimmer's carry and a cross-chest carry were used during the rescue, returning the imperiled couple to land with only minor cuts.
"People should know to take a Red Cross course, whether it's first aid or lifesaving," Susan Havens said. "You just never know."
The family received Certificates of Merit, signed by President Barack Obama, and Certificates of Special Congressional Recognition, from Congress, at Thursday's ceremony.
"This action exemplifies the highest degree of concern of one human being for another who is in distress," said Angie Gresley, Calhoun and Branch County Chapter Red Cross health and safety director.