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Animal Crew Rescue Bridge Jumper

Just minutes after taking this photo, Hilary Walecka saw something fall from the Bridge, and a boring delivery trip turned exciting pretty fast. “It was totally lucky we were right there,” she says.

© 2013 Hilary Walecka

Bumper sticker philosophers often quip, "If you believe in coincidence, you’re not paying attention." Well, nothing will get your attention faster than being in exactly the right place at exactly the right time to save someone’s life.

Scott Walecka, his daughter Hilary and friend John Mizzell found themselves in that position Monday afternoon when they pulled a jumper out of San Francisco Bay. The trio had left Santa Cruz at 2 a.m. to deliver Scott’s Sydney 38 Animal to the Bay for the start of Friday’s Spinnaker Cup. "It was a totally mellow trip," recalled Hilary, who will be crewing for her dad in the race. "We started out in 10 knots, but the wind dropped off so we motored the whole way."

Dad Scott Walecka and crewmember John Mizzell quickly pulled the badly injured jumper from the frigid waters.

© 2013 Hilary Walecka

Hilary reports that the trip was taking longer than they’d expected, so they were anxious to get tied up at St. Francis YC. Around 2 p.m., Animal was about a half-mile from the Golden Gate Bridge when Hilary — who has very sharp, 23-year-old eyes — spotted something drop from the Bridge near the South Tower and make a big splash. "At first I thought it was a pelican but the splash was too big," she said. "I sat there wondering if I should say something, but then asked if anyone else had seen it."

They hadn’t, but a Coast Guard pan pan and a hovering helo confirmed Hilary’s suspicions. Scott immediately headed toward the flare that had been thrown in by bridge police behind the jumper, and the crew quickly spotted him. They threw the boat’s LifeSling to him and he actively pulled himself in toward the boat.

Animal’s GPS track shows where the crew turned around to find the jumper. It took a matter of minutes to locate him and drag him aboard before hightailing it to Station Golden Gate in Horseshoe Cove.

© Latitude 38 Media, LLC

Despite obviously broken legs, the crew were able to drag the man aboard. "He was in and out of consciousness, but he was able to say his name was Brian, that he was from Alabama and that he’d jumped with his dog," Hilary said. "We never saw the dog."

After the crew pulled him aboard, Animal beat feet for Station Golden Gate in Horseshoe Cove. Along the way, a Coast Guardsman came aboard Animal to help with the transfer of the man. "He warned me that it was quite possible he had internal injuries," Hilary noted. There have been no updates on the man’s condition.

Animal will be sailing back to Monterey Bay in Friday’s Spinnaker Cup.

latitude/Rob G.
©2013 Latitude 38 Media, LLC

Though the Bridge’s cheerleaders understandably don’t want to publicize it, the iconic structure is one of the world’s most popular suicide destinations, and about one person a month decides to take his/her life by jumping from it. It’s such an issue that it’s not only the bridge police who monitor ‘suspicious’ pedestrians. Latitude‘s Publisher and this writer have both been cautiously approached by individuals worried about our mental health when we were simply waiting for boats to sail under the ‘Latitude helicopter’. This is a heartwarming testament to the caring nature of the human species.


Big, huge kudos to the Animal crew for their heroic actions. Whether their being in the exact right place after a tiring 12-hour motor was coincidence or providence, we think it deserves serious attention. So if you bump into them at the yacht club bar after (or even before!) this weekend’s race, give them a slap on the back and buy ’em a beverage of their choice as thanks!

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