As Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW) Game Warden Sean Flynn arrived on the scene of a capsized boat on Lake Mead on Mother’s Day of last year, he saw fellow game wardens Thomas Hamblin and Casey Humphries near the shoreline with the capsized boat that was now partially submerged. Hamblin and Humphries, the first to arrive on the scene, had just pulled multiple people from the water and were now coordinating with other wardens and National Park Service Rangers to search for a missing 3-year-old girl who was believed to be stuck under the boat. It was dusk and the boat was sinking. Time was running out.
“I remember thinking that it was Mother’s Day, and the missing girl was about the same age as my son,” said Flynn. “Her grandfather was standing there with a flashlight looking for his granddaughter. I knew I needed to get under the boat fast.”
Flynn, an Air Force veteran with several years’ experience in search and rescue, was selected to swim under the boat and attempt to locate and rescue the little girl. NDOW wardens and Park Service rangers stabilized the boat as best they could, as Flynn swam under the boat, maneuvering through the dark and debris filled water until he located the girl, scared but alive in an air pocket of the capsized boat. He pulled her to the surface cold and afraid, but unharmed.
For his actions that day, Flynn was awarded the Silver Lifesaving Medal by the US Coast Guard in a ceremony in Las Vegas. Hamblin and Humphries were also presented with the US Coast Guard’s Public Service Commendation.
“Receiving this medal is truly an honor, but I would not have been able to do my part of that rescue without Game Wardens Hamblin and Humphries,” said Flynn. “They were there prior to me and were able to secure the overturned boat to the shore. Without their actions, the situation would have been a lot different.”
The Silver Lifesaving Medal is one of the Coast Guard’s highest awards and given to those who “rescue, or endeavor to rescue, any other person from drowning, shipwreck or other peril of water.” The Coast Guard has awarded the Silver Lifesaving Medal only just over 1,900 times since its inception in 1874. For reference, the Medal of Honor, the US government’s highest and most prestigious military decoration, has been awarded 3,508 times since it began in 1863. Previous recipients of the Silver Lifesaving medal include Admiral Chester Nimitz and General George S. Patton.
“I think most people would be surprised to find out how often our game wardens are involved in situations like this, especially during the summer months,” said Tony Wasley, director for NDOW. “These wardens are out on the water saving lives on almost a daily basis. In one day on the Colorado River, or Lake Mead or Lake Tahoe, a warden might rescue a swimmer struggling to stay afloat, assist a kayaker separated from their kayak, or administer aid to someone injured from a jet ski collision, and that’s all before lunch. It’s a testament to these men and women that they are literally saving lives and yet they never expect any recognition. They simply do it because that’s who they are, and they love what they do.”