HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah – An Airman stationed here recently made an instantaneous decision to act and prevented a tragedy for a complete stranger.
Active duty Tech. Sgt. Alister Clyne, 84th Radar Evaluation Squadron, was on a scenic hiking trail in Bells Canyon above Sandy, Utah, May 21, with a group of 10 hikers he’d ‘met’ via an app designed to connect people with similar interests. During the hike, good fortune and timing allowed him to be near a fellow hiker when that hiker needed a hand the most.
After initially hesitating that morning due to weather, Clyne eventually decided to meet the group and go hiking. Clyne, who is originally from Alaska but lived in Sandy, knew the trail well. Part of the hike’s appeal is the majestic Lower Falls, which requires navigating the trail for about two miles with an 1,800-foot elevation gain.
“It’s one of my favorite hikes because there’s a gorgeous waterfall,” said Clyne. “It’s about a good 20-, 30-foot plus waterfall.”
After arriving at the bottom of the waterfall, Clyne continued up a steep, muddy, boulder-strewn path to the top where he knew the views would be fantastic. He also wanted to see the tranquil pool of water he’d seen during previous summer hikes.
At the top, Clyne did not find a tranquil pool of water. Instead, he found that Bells Canyon Creek was now a swollen, rapid river due to the day’s rain and springtime snow melt. This area can be deceptively dangerous as, according to local news sources, numerous hikers have been severely injured and at least two people have died in the past seven years.
Besides the rapid flow of water, Clyne also found fellow hiker Marco Mora-Huizar of Salt Lake City, who had hiked Bells Canyon before but never to the top of the waterfall.
Clyne thought it was odd that Mora-Huizar was on the other side of the wide creek, especially since only one narrow crossing point existed in drier weather. While Clyne pondered how Mora-Huizar had gotten to the other side, Mora-Huizar jumped in an attempt to get back to the trail side of Bells Canyon Creek.
This time, Mora-Huizar slipped on a wet rock and fell face first into the water near the sluice immediately above the falls. The sluice there is wide enough for a human body to pass. The ice-cold water was rushing over his head and pulling him toward the edge of the falls where the water pressure was greatest.
“I jumped and I fell. I didn’t make it all the way across; I fell into the river,” said Mora-Huizar. “I think I was trying to grab onto something and slipping by and I just saw him reach out for me with his hand. I grabbed instinctively and he pulled me up.”
Clyne, who had already been moving toward Mora-Huizar after seeing him jump, said he can’t recall what went through his mind as he reacted.
“It felt like an eternity but looking back, in reality it was probably just two seconds or three seconds,” he said. “I had to grab a tree branch to make sure I didn’t slip in, but I grabbed his arm and it was just up and out.”
After Clyne pulled him out, Mora-Huizar seemed to be in shock and mentioned that he felt strangely warm. Since Clyne had a jacket, he gave Mora-Huizar his dry shirt to wear as the air temperature was in the high 40s.
No other person was in the immediate area until a hiker came up the trail a few minutes after Mora-Huizar had been pulled from the water.
“I don’t know how to describe it other than as a miracle,” he said. “Other than him being there, no one would have seen what happened to me. I can't imagine surviving that incident without him being there.”
Later, after thinking about the day’s events and discussing them with a coworker, Clyne realized that a possible tragedy had been averted.
“It’s one of those things that just hit me,” said Clyne. “If I hadn’t gone that morning, nobody else would have been there. I truly feel that I was at the right place at the right time. He’s [Mora-Huizar] pretty adamant that I saved his life.”
Clyne believes in helping others and has demonstrated a willingness to act on other occasions. While talking over the hiking incident with an Airman friend, she reminded him that he’d pulled her from a rip tide while both were at technical school 13 years ago.
“I don’t think about those kinds of things,” he said. “If someone needs help, I try and help them.”