A Life Saved and an Honor Shared
Two State Police troopers who pulled a Lowell man from the Merrimack River in a daring helicopter rescue in January will be honored for “extraordinary heroism” by an international organization.
John Hazelrigg of Lunenburg and Russell Phippen of Billerica were among 16 people named Carnegie Medal winners on Thursday.
Hazelrigg, a trooper, and Phippen, a tactical flight officer, responded to a call on Jan. 3 about a distraught man in the frigid Merrimack River in Lowell near the Aiken Street bridge. Water rescues are not normally performed by the State Police Airwing’s Air4 helicopter, but other first responders did not think they could reach the man in time.
Knowing time was short, Hazelrigg maneuvered the helicopter over the water, while Phippen, strapped in, hung outside the helicopter, according to their account.
Phippen grabbed the man, who was no longer moving on his own, and pulled him into the chopper.
The man, Raveth Than, survived his suicide attempt. Weeks later, he admitted he made a bad decision and thanked the troopers personally.
Gov. Charlie Baker honored Hazelrigg and Phippen with citations for their bravery.
The Pittsburgh-based Carnegie Hero Fund Commission awards the Carnegie Medal in the United States and Canada to those who risk their lives to an extraordinary degree while saving or attempting to save the lives of others. More than 10,000 medals have been awarded since the Fund’s inception in 1904.
The medal includes a monetary award.
Phippen said Thursday night that despite the accolades he and Hazelrigg have received, he still thinks the helicopter crew just did their jobs that night, and that other troopers have done other impressive things since.
“I get it. We saved a guy’s life, but to me it’s my job,” Phippen said. “We’re both humbled and honored that someone nominated us and that the Carnegie Heroes Fund found what we did worthy of that. But neither one of us think we did anything special that night.”
The narrative accompanying the Carnegie Medal honor reads:
“John Hazelrigg and Russell D. Phippen rescued Revath Than from drowning, Lowell, Massachusetts, January 3, 2018. At night, Than, 24, clung to a rock in the Merrimack River and called for help. Authorities, including police and fire departments, arrived shortly but initial efforts to rescue Than were unsuccessful. Hazelrigg, 52, state trooper, was piloting a police helicopter equipped with a searchlight that was dispatched solely to illuminate the dark river, which flowed swiftly and contained ice.
“The helicopter was not designed or equipped for rescue operations. Arriving at the scene, Hazelrigg and Phippen, 43, tactical flight officer, observed Than, who had been partially submerged in sub-freezing temperatures for more than 20 minutes, to be lethargic and determined that he required immediate assistance. Hazelrigg descended to water level near Than as Phippen, attached to the helicopter by a strap at an open door, positioned himself outside the cabin on a skid.
“With Than beyond Phippen’s reach, Hazelrigg maneuvered the helicopter closer to him as Phippen moved to the other side of the cabin, opened another door, and again positioned himself on a skid. With the helicopter skimming the surface of the water, Phippen handed Than a life vest, grasped his arm, and pulled his upper body into the cabin. Unable to pull Than’s entire body inside, Phippen held on to Than and, with the helicopter’s rear doors open, Hazelrigg flew to a nearby hospital. Than suffered hypothermia and a cut on his chin; he recovered. Phippen was sore and wet.”