UF student who died trying to save another student recognized for heroism

Published: July 5th, 2013

Category: Announcements, InsideUF, Top Stories

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — University of Florida student Michael Wayne Pirie, who died Feb. 12, 2011, while trying to save a friend who became stranded in a cave, has been recognized with a Carnegie Medal from the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission.

Pirie, 18, of Oviedo, and Grant Lockenbach, 20, of DeLand, also a UF student, were among a group of students exploring Ellison’s Cave in northwest Georgia when the accident happened. After a backpack containing personal items and gear had fallen to the bottom of a 125-foot-deep pit that was 1,000 feet inside the cave, Lockenbach lowered himself by rope to retrieve it. Encountering difficulty, he shouted for help, and several members of the party left to alert rescue personnel.

With Lockenbach continuing to shout for help, Pirie donned a harness and descended into the pit on another line. For several minutes he and Lockenbach remained in communication with those students at the top of the pit, despite the noise of a nearby waterfall dropping into the pit. Eventually their voices were silenced, Lockenbach’s first. Rescue personnel arrived at the scene, descended into the pit, and found Lockenbach and Pirie suspended by one of the lines in the spray of the waterfall. They had died of harness-hang syndrome and hypothermia.

Pirie was among 35 to receive Carnegie Medals this year, and 9,611 since the Pittsburgh-based Fund’s start in 1904. The medal is given throughout the U.S. and Canada to civilians who risk their lives to an extraordinary degree while saving or attempting to save the lives of others. Each of the awardees or their survivors receives a financial grant. During the 109 years since industrialist-philanthropist Andrew Carnegie established the fund, $35.2 million has been given in one-time grants, scholarship aid, death benefits and continuing assistance.

Pirie was a freshman marketing major and also played drums in the school’s marching band. Lockenbach was a senior studying sociology and a member of ROTC. He was also president of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

A Michael Pirie Memorial Scholarship Fund was established in the College of Fine Arts for students on the Gator Marching Band drumline who exhibit strength of character, generosity, exuberance and dedication to the Gator Band.

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