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Phoenix officer's vacation heroics save woman in Pacific

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Phoenix Police Officer Guillermo Arrubla speaks to the media  Tuesday after returning from Hawaii, where his heroic actions helped save a woman's life. (Source: CBS 5 News) Phoenix Police Officer Guillermo Arrubla speaks to the media Tuesday after returning from Hawaii, where his heroic actions helped save a woman's life. (Source: CBS 5 News)
(Source: Honolulu Ocean Safety Division) (Source: Honolulu Ocean Safety Division)
PHOENIX (CBS5) -

Is a police officer ever off-duty? Not a Phoenix police officer vacationing in Hawaii, who earned the moniker "hero" after saving the life of a woman in the turbulent cliffside waters of the Pacific Ocean.

Officer Guillermo Arrubla and his 19-year-old were casually enjoying a popular cliff area in Oahu last weekend, when a pending disaster unfolded.

Arrubla saw a woman in her 20s leap off a cliff, struggle in the water and then was pulled out to sea.

He sprang into action.

"She tried to climb up on the rocks," Arrubla remembered. "The current basically crashed on her, and then the current pulled her back out."

Arrubla said she was about five feet from the rocks, and one of her friends unsuccessfully tried to save her.

While someone called 911, a local man grabbed two life jackets. By this time, Arrubla said, the current pushed the woman 75 to 100 yards out to sea.

"By the time [emergency responders] get to us, because you have to walk up a trail to get to the actual cliff, so that's another five, maybe 10 minutes with the equipment, to get to us and I'm just doing the math in my head really quick, and she's going to be out there for about 20 minutes before anyone gets to her," Arrubla said.

That's when he put on one of the vests and went in after her.

"I knew I had just seconds before the next wave would crash in on me," he said. "I didn't want to get caught in between the rocks, so I just sprinted out as fast as I could with the vest over my shoulder."

Arrubla is no stranger to helping people. He was honored last year as the South Mountain Precinct Officer of the Year for his service to the South Phoenix community.

"You could see she was exhausted at that point," he said. "She had been treading water approximately 20, 25 minutes at that point."

Arrubla put the second life jacket on the woman, and stayed with her until lifeguards on jet skis picked them up.

His heroic actions earned him a merit award from the Honolulu Ocean Safety Division.

"When people are in the open ocean like that it becomes very ominous," said division Lt. J.R. Sloane. "It looks refreshing and inviting maybe from up on top of the cliffs, but when in you're in that water and rough seas, it's extremely dangerous."

Arrubla said he knew he had to help.

"I saw a lot of people with their cell phones out," he said."I'm not going to sit here and watch a young girl drown right before us. I just figured somebody has got to do something."

Arrubla said he was a lifeguard more than 20 years ago. That clearly helped his confidence level in this situation, he said.

Arrubla was born in Medellin, Colombia, and was brought to the United States by his parents in search of better medical attention after he was born with meningitis, and fell into a coma for about year.

He said he began his career with the New York Police Department in Brooklyn, NY, 13 years ago as a patrol officer, and joined the Phoenix South Mountain Precinct in 2006.

Copyright 2013 CBS 5 (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.

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