SAN JOSE -- A Leigh High School senior was given a prestigious national honor for his quick actions that saved a boy from plunging to certain death over Vernal Fall in Yosemite National Park last spring.

The Pennsylvania-based Carnegie Hero Fund Commission on Friday named Alec Smith, 17, as one of 77 individuals to receive the Carnegie Medal this year, given to "those who risk their lives to an extraordinary degree while saving or attempting to save the lives of others."

Alec hiked with his family up the popular Mist Trail to the top of the 317-foot waterfall on April 9, and was appreciating the dramatic view of the Merced River plunging into the rocky valley below when a woman cried out in distress.

Her 9-year-old son had attempted to fish a dropped water bottle from the fast-moving river but slipped and fell in, and Alec saw him bobbing over rocks toward the precipice, which in 2011 claimed three Central Valley residents when one fell in and the others tried to save her.

"Nobody has ever survived going over the fall," said Yosemite park ranger Kari Cobb when asked about the rescue last spring.

Alec, who plays football at his school, rushed to the river -- vaulting a three-foot guard rail -- in a trajectory that had him meet the boy at the water's edge, about 20 feet from the drop. Crooking one arm around a rock and reaching out with the other, he snagged the child and was able to haul him out of the water.

Alec's father Justin Smith said they knew he had been nominated for the Carnegie Medal, and family members at the fall had been interviewed by the foundation. But they were thrilled to hear that Alec was a winner. The prize comes with a $5,000 fellowship, Justin Smith said.

"Yeah, he's excited," Smith said. "We weren't really expecting that much of a monetary award. That was a nice Christmas present."

For more information about the Carnegie Medal and hero fund, visit www.carnegiehero.org.

Contact Eric Kurhi at 408-920-5852. Follow him at Twitter.com/erickurhi.