State honors 16-year-old girl who helped save 12 people in river

June 19, 1994|By Suzanne Loudermilk | Suzanne Loudermilk,Sun Staff Writer

What started out as a holiday fishing trip for Heather Rogers turned into a rescue mission that recently earned the teen-ager a state heroism award.

The C. Milton Wright High School student was credited with helping to save 12 people and a small dog from the Elk River in Cecil County on a chilly Memorial Day last year.

For her efforts, Heather was honored with the Department of Natural Resources' Maryland Boating Safety Heroism Award in a ceremony at the Inner Harbor earlier this month. She is the first female and the youngest recipient of the sixth annual award, said Barbara MacLeod, a DNR spokeswoman.

"I'd do it regardless of winning an award," said the petite &L 16-year-old, who had completed a lifesaving course three weeks before she jumped into the choppy river to take rescue equipment to the capsized church group.

When Heather and her mother, Darlene Rogers, set out for a day of fishing with friends and family in a cabin cruiser, they had no idea they wouldn't make it to Battery Island, at the mouth of the Susquehanna River and Chesapeake Bay.

En route, they saw heads bobbing in the water.

Then they saw that three canoes, laden with picnic supplies, had overturned.

They turned their boat around and headed toward the people, who were hanging onto floating coolers and debris. The victims -- visitors from Pennsylvania -- had only five life preservers, and only three of them could swim, Mrs. Rogers said.

Heather and her family and friends threw safety lines to them. Then Heather, who has been swimming since she was 3, dove into the rough, chilly water to bring two people to the boat. Soon, the Maryland Natural Resources Police responded to the Rogers' radio SOS and helped to complete the rescue.

Now, Heather said, she feels embarrassed by the attention the event has elicited.

"I felt like it was too much," said the shy girl, who hopes to go to the Naval Academy. She'll be a senior this fall.

Her Churchville home is filled with reminders of the rescue. Another award -- from the Red Cross -- sits on a table in the family room, and her DNR plaque -- a mounted, half-hull carved model of a skipjack -- hangs prominently in the entrance hallway, near a framed citation from Gov. William Donald Schaefer.

Heather also received a note from the rescued church group, she said.

"We're very proud of her," said family friend Trish Mallin, who nominated Heather for the DNR honor.

Heather, who is team captain of the Wright swim team and a lifeguard and swim teacher this summer at Maryland Golf and Country Club in Bel Air, is seldom far from water. But on Memorial Day this year, she decided to forgo rivers and fishing.

"I figured I'd stay on dry land and have a cookout like normal people," she said, smiling.

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