‘Life or death’: UC Berkeley professor Joshua Hug saves woman at beach

Photo of the Berkeley Marina
Zainab Ali/File
Among many incidents involving Bay Area waters, UC Berkeley associate professor Joshua Hug saves an older woman and her dog from dangerous waves in Pacifica on Dec. 8.

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Joshua Hug, campus associate teaching professor of electrical engineering and computer science, saved an older woman and her dog from dangerous waves in Pacifica on Dec. 8 at about 1 p.m.

Hug said he was at the north end of Linda Mar Beach trying to take some drone pictures of the waves when he saw a woman on the south end of the beach who seemed to be struggling in the water. Hug added that he could faintly hear the woman asking for help but she seemed unable to get out of the water herself, so he dropped his equipment and ran toward her.

“It seemed suddenly like ‘wow, this is a life or death situation,’ ” Hug said.

Hug said he wasn’t able to pull the woman up to the beach by himself, so he used the waves to propel them closer to the shore. Another man approached soon thereafter who, once Hug caught his attention, helped Hug and the woman progress toward the shore.

In the meantime, two children approached the scene; one of them held on to the dog while the other called 911. A third man approached, and the three of them were able to get the woman to safety.

Hug added that he felt a sense of “gratitude” that he had been there.

“I would guess this is the most consequential thing I’ve ever done in life,” Hug said. “I really think that she would not have survived if I hadn’t been there.”

Hug said the woman was able to give him her daughter’s phone number, which he used to contact the daughter and let her know what had happened.

The fire and police department arrived and took the woman to the hospital. The police suggested taking the dog to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals until something else could be done, but Hug agreed to watch the dog until the woman’s daughter was able to come.

Hug waited on the beach for about 20 minutes, after which the daughter arrived and gave him a hug. Hug described the incident as “humbling” and “profound.”

“It felt amazing that in some other reality where I was not there, this woman died, this person roughly my age lost her mother,” Hug said. “It was like I was the thing in between that. I had the sense that I had given her back her mom.”

Just a few hours before he saved the woman, there was a man nearby who had climbed onto rocks at the beach and was swept away. Hug added that oftentimes it can be very easy to underestimate the power of the waves and warned others to be cautious.

Contact Mela Seyoum at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @melaseyoum.