Hiking on the Billy Goat Trail at Great Falls last summer, Alexandra Corbutt and her friend heard someone yelling “Help!”
After realizing a man was drowning in the Potomac River, Corbutt suggested that she, and two men who had come along, form a human chain and drag the man to safety. Meanwhile, her friend called 911.
Corbutt told her story in the Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic School library on Monday , which was packed with students awestruck and proud to learn their own fifth-grade teacher had saved a life.
“The adrenaline was going,” Corbutt said of the rescue, which took place just after noon on June 24. “I was thinking about all the students. I would have dove right in for any of you guys.”
The students — in grades three through eight — burst into applause.
“I’m not surprised,” said one of Corbutt’s students, Juliana Caprizzi. “She’s always been such a nice person.”
Caprizzi may not have been surprised to learn her teacher was a hero, but Corbutt, 24, was shocked when she realized the school assembly she had walked into had been organized to celebrate her deed.
Representatives of Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Services were on hand to present the Bethesda native with a plaque commemorating her.
Corbutt displayed great courage, said Assistant Chief Scott Graham, adding that she “truly represents the best.”
Graham reminded the students of how dangerous the Potomac River is, telling them that the same day their teacher helped rescue a man, another young man drowned in the river. Ngo Tekwe Forchick, 19, went swimming near the Billy Goat Trail with friends later that same day and was pulled along by strong currents. His body was found two days later. The Billy Goat Trail is a 4.7-mile hiking path between the C&O Canal and Potomac River.
Graham encouraged the students to follow Corbutt’s example by reaching out to people in their lives.
The students resounded to this with a standing ovation, joined by Corbutt’s parents Mary Beth and Greg Corbutt, her brother Tyler Corbutt and her aunt and grandparents.
“She’s always been the fearless one in the family,” her brother said. “Her courage didn’t surprise me.”
In addition to courage, Corbutt can add another virtue to her list — modesty. She told very few people about what happened. “She never told any of us,” said her principal, Patricia McGann, who has known Corbutt since she taught her at St. Jane de Chantal School in Bethesda. “It was her mother who called.”