In early February, a teen at a local high school was honored with a rarely-gifted award by one of the nation’s oldest values-based youth organizations for saving his friend’s life when he fell from a cliff.
At the Moreno Valley Conference and Recreation Center Feb. 4, the California Inland Empire Council of the Boy Scouts of America awarded the esteemed Honor Medal to 15-year-old Luke Draeger a sophomore at Chaparral High School for lifesaving recognition for the heroic life-saving efforts on behalf of his friend and classmate, Jacob Carbajal, during a day trip to Laguna Beach, Calif.
In early summer of 2016, Luke’s dad Justin Draeger, a Los Angeles City firefighter, had taken a group of boys to the beach. The group included his own three boys and a few of Luke’s friends. While Justin Draeger finished setting up their staging area, Luke and his little brothers Jake and Owen, fellow classmate Fischer Peterson, as well as water polo teammates and twin brothers, Jacob and Matthew Carbajal, decided to explore alongside the rocks that wrapped around Crescent Bay beach.
“It was like all the other summer days,” Fischer said. “And we decided to go on the cliffs and hike around.”
Jacob’s twin brother, Matthew said he was enjoying the day.
“Luke, Jacob and I were sitting at the edge of the cliff that overlooked the ocean when the earth where Jacob was sitting broke, and he fell straight down,” Matthew said. “When I stood up to see what happened, I saw a cloud of blood around my brother in the water below.”
“I was stunned,” Luke said. “I was in disbelief that my friend had just fallen off a cliff.”
Unknown to the boys, Jacob, falling feet first, had sustained a severe compound fracture to the right ankle with further complications of severely lacerated flesh.
“I saw two girls with phones,” Fischer said. “I borrowed one and called 911 while Luke’s two brothers, Jake and Owen, ran back to the beach to get their dad.”
“I saw blood in the water,” Luke said. “And Jacob yelled out to me, `I think I broke my leg,’ so I knew that I had to get in there and help him.”
The boys said that Luke dove in and swam approximately 30 or 40 yards to get to his friend.
Fischer said while it was all happening, it was a tragic and scary incident.
“I was super impressed with Luke and how he jumped right in without even hesitating,” he said.
“I was very scared,” Jacob said. “But I didn’t feel any pain at all. I had so much adrenaline and shock that I was just numb. I just thought that I had to get somewhere safe where I couldn’t be hurt any worse than I already was. I didn’t know what to do. I just wanted it to be a dream.”
“I was shocked and scared when I saw my brother’s foot dangling,” Matthew said. “But Luke was perfectly calm and brave.”
Getting to their father, 13-year-old Jake told his dad what had happened.
With dad’s strict instructions, Luke’s little brothers stayed back on the beach to wait for paramedics.
“I felt really nervous for Jacob,” 11-year-old Owen said. “But I was thankful he had a friend like Luke.”
Justin Draeger said when he arrived at the cliffs Luke was using the double under drag life-saving technique to get Jacob to safety.
“A few weeks earlier,” he said, “I had taught Luke this very same technique during a Life Safety merit badge class I taught.”
Reaching the shore, Luke assisted his dad by moving Jacob onto a smoother rock away from the crashing waves to elevate and stabilize the injury. In time, lifeguards and fire rescue personnel arrived and strapped Jacob onto a backboard. Luke assisted the responders by helping them carry his friend over the treacherous rocks, down to the beach and into the ambulance.
“Luke’s 6-foot, 6-inch size and athletic ability in the water as a swimmer and water polo player were key in rescuing his friend,” Luke’s dad Justin Draeger said. “But more importantly, it was Luke’s ability to stay calm, keep his friend calm and reassure him in a moment of pure panic and pain that he would be OK. He did everything right because he truly cares for people, especially his friends.”
Luke’s mother Julie Draeger explained that Luke is a humble kid and tells people that he did nothing more than anyone else would do for a friend.
“It’s his nature to help, but what he doesn’t realize is how extraordinary he is,” she said.
Emma, Luke’s 6-year-old sister, is especially proud of her big brother and said she loved seeing her brother getting a standing ovation from the crowd.
“Luke is a nice brother, and I love him,” she said.
“It was a real honor for us all to be a part of that award ceremony,” Julie Draeger said. “But having his friend, Jacob, there to honor him as well was a beautiful moment a mom will never forget.”