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Idaho man who drowned saving children in the Salmon River honored for heroism

After seeing their canoe tip over in the fast-moving water, 34-year-old Keawe Michael Pestana leapt into the river to help.
Credit: Carnegie Hero Fund Commission
Keawe Michael Pestana

RIGGINS, Idaho — A Donnelly man who died after jumping into a fast-moving river to rescue his three young cousins has posthumously been awarded a medal for his heroism. 

Keawe Michael Pestana, 34, has been honored with the Carnegie Medal, which is given to people in the U.S. and Canada who "who risk their lives to an extraordinary degree saving or attempting to save the lives of others," according to the group. The medal is considered the highest civilian honor for heroism. 

The children, ages 10, 6, and 3, were canoeing in the Salmon River with their father when the watercraft tipped over on April 26, 2019. All four occupants were flung into the cold, swift water and began being carried rapidly downstream.

From the bank, Pestana - who was deaf and could not speak - jumped into the river to try and reach the group. The children's uncle also entered the water, but swam back to safety after becoming too tired. 

The current carried Pestana's little cousins and their father past him as he tried to rescue them. The 34-year-old was pulled into a circular current, slipped beneath the surface of the water, and drowned in the river. 

All three children and their father were swept into a calm eddy about half a mile downriver, and were able to get out of the water unharmed.

Pestana's body was found weeks later by a fisherman on the Salmon River.

In addition to the medal, Pestana's family will receive a financial award in his honor from the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission.

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