NOAA 03-R299-54
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Susan A. Weaver
12/2/03
NOAA News Releases 2003
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COMMERCE DEPARTMENT AWARDS GOLD MEDAL TO
JUNEAU NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE METEOROLOGIST

The U.S. Department of Commerce has awarded its Gold Medal to Julia Ruthford of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Juneau National Weather Service (NWS) Weather Forecast Office. She earned the prestigious award for rescuing three young men Dec. 27, 2002, in Puget Sound, Wash., after strong winds capsized their catamaran and spilled them into the chilly, rough waters of Henderson Bay.

Ruthford, who serves as a meteorologist in the Juneau Weather Forecast Office, will be presented the award by Commerce Secretary Donald L. Evans on Dec. 5, 2003, in Washington, D.C. It is the Department of Commerce’s most distinguished annual employee award.

The rescued men - ages 19, 19, and 20 - were wearing only t-shirts and shorts at the time of the accident. They were later taken to a local hospital and treated for hypothermia. A Pierce County, Wash., Sheriff spokesman told the Tacoma News Tribune, “They were lucky they had life jackets on or else they wouldn’t be alive.”

Winds at the time of the accident were sustained around 25 mph and gusting to near 50 mph causing waves over five feet high. At the time of the rescue, the NWS had warnings in effect for Puget Sound and adjacent counties for wind speeds in excess of 40 mph.

Ruthford is an experienced sailor and windsurfer. She was windsurfing in a full wetsuit near the Tacoma Narrows Bridge when she saw the boat flip and the men thrown into the water. “It looked like one or two of them didn’t hold onto the boat so they got separated,” Ms. Ruthford told Seattle’s KIRO-TV. “The one guy who stayed with the boat was having trouble getting it righted.”

Ruthford expertly sailed over to check the condition of the two men who quickly drifted about 100 yards from the boat in the high winds and rough seas. She then sailed back to the third man and helped him right the boat. After she helped upright the boat, Julia abandoned her own board, climbed in the boat with the exhausted man and sailed the boat over to the other two men still in the water. After retrieving them, she sailed all three men and the boat safely back to shore where paramedics took the men to the hospital.

Ruthford is a graduate of the University of Washington, and a former summer student employee at NWS Forecast Office Seattle, Wash. She was home for the holidays in the Seattle area when she performed this act of heroism. According to Tom Ainsworth, Meteorologist in Charge of the NWS Forecast Office in Juneau, “Ms. Ruthford’s vigilant awareness of her environmental surroundings and concern for the welfare of others during hazardous weather events typifies the heroism she exhibits daily while carrying out the mission of the NWS.”

NOAA is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and providing environmental stewardship of our nation’s coastal and marine resources. NOAA is part of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

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