After a daring rescue, a teenager is called a hero and the woman he saved from a dry wash that turned into a raging river is a grateful survivor of some of the worst flooding in Southern California in a century.
Both rescuer, Mark White, 17, and victim, Sally Swanson, 54, are members of the Solemint Ward in the Santa Clarita California Stake. She is a Sunday School teacher; he is a member of the priests quorum. Neither recognized the other during the rescue. In fact, they didn't even know each other, although Sister Swanson and Mark's mother, Linda White, are friends.The news-making drama transpired Monday, Feb. 10, when Sister Swanson, a mother of three and grandmother of seven, left work early as manager of a western wear store to check on the animals on her ranch in Santa Clarita's Canyon Country, about 5 miles away. "I wanted to cross the wash before the flooding got too bad," she said in a Church News telephone interview. "I was driving a big 10-passenger van, and was doing fine until I got about three feet from the other side of the wash and the van stalled."
She tried attracting help by honking the van's horn, but soon figured it couldn't be heard above the roar of the water that was rapidly turning the wash into a river, which eventually measured some 20 feet wide and up to 6 feet deep. After a log broadsided the van and set it adrift she climbed out, perching momentarily on the hood.
"I thought I could wade across," she said. "I grabbed hold of the grill and got in the water. The force of the water was so strong that it put me into a horizontal position and took my cowboy boots off. All I could do was hang on. I felt the van turning over. I turned loose so I wouldn't end up under the van. I was swept downstream, end over end.
"After a little while, I saw a young man standing on the embankment. I yelled for help, then was upended again. The next thing I knew, he grabbed me."
The young man was Mark White, a muscular high school football player, who stands 6-foot-1 and weighs 190 pounds. Sister Swanson, according to one of her friends, is "tiny, about 5-foot-3, and weighs no more than 98 pounds, soaking wet."
Mark had gone into the yard to look at the wash behind his family's property. He heard Sister Swanson yell. "When I saw her, I realized she was in big trouble," he said. "I was up on a hill, and a fence and some bushes were between us. I ran to the end of the fence, where it was clear. When I got there, I had about two seconds before I had to jump into the water."
Mark said he didn't really think about what he was doing. "I just acted on reflex. I jumped as far out into the water as I could and landed just kind of downstream from where she was coming. She was there immediately. She rammed into me and knocked me back a little. I lost my footing, so we were both carried some distance."
Sister Swanson recalled that Mark kept telling her to hang on to him, but she couldn't. "My brain told me that was what I should do, but I couldn't