Navy airman Ismael Zaragoza couldn’t believe what he was seeing.

As a twin-prop E2-C Hawkeye was approaching the USS Kitty Hawk for landing, a sailor suddenly stepped out from between two parked F/A-18 Hornets and began walking across the landing zone.

“It was like when kids dash out from between parked cars into traffic,” Zaragoza said Thursday, recalling the July 2 incident. “The guy had no idea that a plane was coming right behind him.”

With only seconds separating life and death, Zaragoza yelled for help as he ran toward the sailor.

“The Hawkeye was already over the (back end of the carrier),” Zaragoza said during a phone interview from the aircraft carrier, currently on a four-month deployment in the South Pacific. “I ran and pushed the guy out of the way just as the plane passed by us.”

With less than two years in the Navy, Zaragoza had just saved a shipmate’s life.

“At first I didn’t think anything of it,” Zaragoza said. “On a flight deck safety is everyone’s job. But then a pilot got out of his plane and came over and told me what a brave thing I had just done.”

Later that day Zaragoza was approached by a sailor he didn’t recognize.

“This guy comes up to me and asks, ‘Are you the guy who saved that other guy?’ I said, ‘yeah,’” Zaragoza recalled. “Then he said, ‘Well I’m that other guy. Thank you. You probably saved my life.’”

Zaragoza said people started calling him a hero. But he felt he was just doing his job.

Apparently, more than just a few sailors thought Zaragoza had done something special. During an all-hands call on the flight deck the next day, Zaragoza got another surprise during a seemingly normal workday.

“I was in my work clothes standing with everyone else, when the captain called me forward,” Zaragoza said. “Suddenly everyone is ordered to attention and I was awarded a Navy Achievement Medal.”

Zaragoza credits his training for teaching him how to react in an emergency situation.

“It really keeps you on your toes,” he said.

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