Airman’s heroic act prevents fiery death
By Staff Sgt. Ned T. Johnston, 6th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs
/ Published February 01, 2017
MACDILL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- As his bare feet touched the cold morning floor, a chill ran up his spine. Sitting up on the edge of his bed, he sighed. His eyes turned to the screaming alarm clock on the bedside table -- 4:15 a.m.
Rubbing the sleep from his eyes and taking a deep breath, PeeJay gathered himself both mentally and physically, stood up from his bed and began his morning just like any other.
A quick two eggs over easy and a cup of coffee made with love from his wife followed by a morning shave and lacing up his combat boots were routine for him. It didn’t require a deep analytical thought process. He hardly even had to think for these things to happen.
With his brain set to auto pilot, PeeJay began his morning drive to MacDill Air Force Base. An hour drive to Tampa, Florida, on one of the busiest and deadliest interstates in the country was his everyday commute.
Driving in the middle lane, he noticed a car in his rear-view mirror approaching quickly, weaving in and out of traffic. Typical for this particular interstate, he thought nothing of it.
As the car went around PeeJay’s driver side door, it lost traction with the road. A cloud of white smoke trailed the car as it tail whipped back and forth as the driver attempted to maintain control of his vehicle.
PeeJay watched as the car veered off the road completely, down a ditch and into the foliage on the side of the road. He pulled his car over to the apron of the road and began walking toward the scene of the accident.
As he approached the scene, he saw the light of an engine fire burning under the vehicle and heard a bystander scream “he’s still in the car.” PeeJay ran down the ditch to the burning vehicle to find the driver unconscious and pinned under the steering wheel.
The flames grew taller and started to completely engulf the front end of the vehicle before PeeJay could even open the buckled-shut driver side door. By the time him and another rescuer got the door open, the flames were pouring over the hood of the car.
PeeJay reached into the vehicle to pull the man out, and in that moment, the driver woke up to the excruciating pain of both his legs being pinned underneath the collapsed steering column. PeeJay tried to settle the man, but was quickly running out of time as the flames were now at his feet.
“In that moment, I knew he was in pain, but I had to get him out of there before it was too late,” said PeeJay. “So, I grabbed him by the wrists and threw him onto my back. I was trudging through the mud, and other bystanders were trying to guide me, and I slipped a little bit.
“I think when I slipped is when I was the most afraid, because here I am with this guy on my back trying to get away. I don’t know if this car is going to blow up or not.
“When the sheriff figured that we were far enough from danger, he said ‘stop here and put him down.’ When I put him down, I turned and looked at the vehicle and there were already flames coming out the back of the vehicle. Like, the hatchback of his SUV was melted down.”
Mere seconds separated PeeJay’s life-saving actions from being a horror story instead of a story of survival, but when asked about what he feels when he reflects on that morning, PeeJay doesn’t think he did anything anyone else wouldn’t do given the same circumstances.
“Everybody calls me a hero or his angel. It’s just humanity. It’s just one human helping out another one,” said PeeJay. “I just happened to be at the right place at the right time, and god put me there to help him out.”
Airman 1st Class PeeJay Jack is a vehicle maintainer with the 290th Joint Communications Support Squadron.