July 3, 2014

2002 LSU Electrical Engineering alumnus Jason Mangiaracina from Gretna, La., serves as a U.S. Army Aviation Officer and Blackhawk Pilot. He was recently awarded the Soldier’s Medal--the highest peacetime heroism award given by the U.S. Army--for risking his life to save a drowning swimmer caught in a riptide at Gulf Shores, MS on June 5, 2013.

Why did you choose LSU?

At the time I had no interest in leaving the state and LSU has such a positive reputation here in Louisiana, I figured why not.

Why did you choose engineering? 

I chose Electrical Engineering because I always had an interest in math and physics. My LSU degree not only offered me a chance to apply both my academic interest in a practical way, but also gave me a fundamental understanding of electronics and computer technology. I find that absolutely fascinating.

What are you doing since you’ve graduated? 

Since I graduated LSU, I have served on active duty as an Army Aviation Officer and Blackhawk Pilot. I chose this field of work partly because it provides an excellent blend of technology and operations. While I have not used my degree directly in what I do, I feel it has helped me tremendously. More than anything else, it has made me a better problem solver and analytical thinker, in turn, a better leader and pilot.

What is your advice to current engineering students or students considering engineering? 

Any engineering degree program here at LSU will be challenging, as it should be. If it were easy everyone would do it. So, if a student decides to study engineering, I would say embrace it, study hard, be determined and don't ever, ever quit.

Back in the summer of 2013, you were able to save a drowning 17 year old and now you are known as a hero. What happened the day of June 5, 2013?

“I was on the beach in Gulf Shores, Ala. with my wife, kids and mother-in-law.  We noticed some commotion coming from another family a few meters down the beach.  Their two teenage boys had ventured several meters into the gulf and were swept out by the tide.  Fortunately, one of the brothers made it back to shore, but the other did not.  Two men who were passing along the beach entered the water to retrieve one of the teenage boys, Josh.  After observing the two men and realizing what was going on, my wife grabbed an inner tube and entered the water to assist.  I grabbed my daughter’s kick board, tied it to my wrist, and followed my wife out to sea.  When I arrived to my wife's location she and the two men were holding on to the inner tube and Josh. Josh was not breathing, his lips were blue and he had water coming out of his nose.  Right after I arrived, a huge wave over took all of us, flipped me, and ripped the inner tube away from the group, and separated us.  When I return to the surface, I saw the two men swimming back for shore, my wife was treading water about 20 meters away from my location, and Josh had sank back under the water about 5 meters from my location.  

After my wife stated that she was okay, I swam to Josh, reached into the water and pulled him back up to the surface by his hair.  I held on to Josh, kept him afloat, and tried to make my way back to shore, but the rip tide was too strong.  About 5 minutes later, paramedics and life guards arrived on the beach.  Two lifeguards swam out to meet my wife and I.  They gave us a floatation device to hold on to while they attempted to pull us out of the tide.  I held on to Josh and the floatation device as we all tried to swim out of the tide, but we did not make much progress.  Finally, two large waves came crashing behind us and pushed us into the shore. 

Once we were all able to stand, I carried Josh toward the shore until a police officer and a lifeguard took him from me. They dragged him on the beach and began performing CPR.  Josh never regained consciousness as the paramedics transported him to the ER.  Three days later I was able to contact and meet with his family.  They said recovery would be slow.  As of October 8, 2013, Josh is in good health, except he is blind due to his brain not getting enough oxygen for so long.  It is unknown if the blindness is permanent.  He is able to function well enough to attend school."

Editor’s note:  Josh graduated from high school in May 2014.

Major Jason Mangiaracina earned his Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering from Louisiana State University in 2002. He is a native of Gretna, LA and served in the Louisiana National Guard as an enlisted Avionics Maintainer while earning his degree at LSU. Mangiaracina earned his Commission in the Active Army as an Aviation Officer through LSU Army ROTC and returned to his alma mater to serve as Cadre from 2012 to 2014.

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Article by Erica Pater, external relations coordinator, LSU College of Engineering, 225-578-8408, ericap@lsu.edu



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