Lake Zurich High student honored for saving mom in rapids

 
 
Updated 1/30/2017 5:39 PM
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  • Lake Zurich High School senior Nathan Coirier, in white helmet on right just past men in red helmets, rescued his mother, who was knocked from this raft and into the Ocoee River rapids in Tennessee in August 2015. Lake Zurich Unit District 95 board members honored Coirier last week.

    Lake Zurich High School senior Nathan Coirier, in white helmet on right just past men in red helmets, rescued his mother, who was knocked from this raft and into the Ocoee River rapids in Tennessee in August 2015. Lake Zurich Unit District 95 board members honored Coirier last week. Photo courtesy of Laura Coirier

  • Lake Zurich High School senior Nathan Coirier, center, flanked by parents Rich and Laura, was honored by Lake Zurich Unit District 95 board members for rescuing his mother after she was knocked from a raft into Ocoee River white-water rapids in Tennessee in August 2015.

      Lake Zurich High School senior Nathan Coirier, center, flanked by parents Rich and Laura, was honored by Lake Zurich Unit District 95 board members for rescuing his mother after she was knocked from a raft into Ocoee River white-water rapids in Tennessee in August 2015. Bob Susnjara | Staff Photographer

  • Lake Zurich High School senior Nathan Coirier, lower right with white helmet and gray shirt, is credited with saving his mother after she was knocked into white-water rapids in Tennessee by the raft at top. Laura Coirier is in the raft to the left of her son just before going into the Ocoee River.

    Lake Zurich High School senior Nathan Coirier, lower right with white helmet and gray shirt, is credited with saving his mother after she was knocked into white-water rapids in Tennessee by the raft at top. Laura Coirier is in the raft to the left of her son just before going into the Ocoee River. Photo courtesy of Laura Coirier

Lake Zurich High School senior Nathan Coirier is a hero not just in his mother's eyes.

Coirier, an 18-year-old Boy Scout, has been recognized by the Lake Zurich Unit District 95 board for saving his mother, Laura, after she was knocked from a raft and into the Ocoee River's white-water rapids in Tennessee during a family vacation in August 2015.

"I am so proud of him," Laura Coirier said after District 95 spokeswoman Jean Malek recited gripping details about the rescue during last week's school board meeting.

About two weeks ago, Nathan Coirier received the Boy Scouts of America's honor medal for his swift action. Word of the heroics traveled to District 95 officials, who presented the special recognition to him.

Spectators in Lake Zurich High's library broke into loud applause for the teenager.

"We are proud to recognize you tonight for your outstanding citizenship as a member of our schools and our community," Malek told him.

Coirier and his mother, father and sister -- all wearing flotation vests and helmets -- went on a guided rafting excursion on the Class 4 rapids in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park region. The Ocoee's flow was a little faster than usual because of rain the day before their trip on what the U.S. Forest Service lists as one of the best white-water rivers in the South.

As the Coiriers traveled down the Ocoee, Nathan said, they became stuck on rocks that were difficult to see because of the higher-than-usual water level. A trailing raft continued toward them in the fast water and was unable to stop.

"And so they ran right over our raft and pushed my father and my sister farther into the raft, so they were stuck, and popped my mother out of the raft," Nathan said.

Laura Coirier, 52, an experienced swimmer, said she knew she was going over and took a deep breath when she hit the water. She was sucked into a hydraulic whirlpool and unable to immediately come up for air.

Holding a rope tethered to his raft, Nathan jumped into the rapids, grabbed his mother's vest and pulled her to the surface.

"I saw she wasn't in the (raft) and I just went in the water," said Nathan, who had been on white-water rafting trips with the Boy Scouts before this family outing.

Laura Coirier said she grabbed a rope and was pulled into the raft. She said she and daughter Morgan, 16, got back to land and called it a day after the rescue.

Nathan and his father, Rich, finished the rafting trip. Rich Coirier, 55, beamed after his son was recognized by the District 95 school board.

"I couldn't be more proud," he said, "and I've got my wife here still."

Local Scouting officials had to submit documentation to the national organization for Nathan to receive the honor medal as part of a lengthy process finalized in November. The Eagle Scout plays cello in Lake Zurich High's symphony orchestra and plans to study theoretical physics in college.

"We commend him for his courage, daring, skill and self-sacrifice," the Boy Scouts said in a statement Monday.

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