Fireman sees special purpose in life after surviving crash that killed two friends
May 31, 2006
SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, Germany — Airman 1st Class Skyler Burts recalls very little of what happened right before the car crash last summer that claimed the lives of two of his best friends.
He woke up in the front passenger seat bleeding from his head to see Senior Airman Timothy Alford and Airman 1st Class Erik Salazar mortally injured.
The Air Force firefighters had spent all night at a club in the Netherlands and were driving back to Spangdahlem Air Base. Near St. Vith, Belgium, the BMW sedan they were riding in drove onto a guardrail, struck an autobahn light pole, spun around and landed on the other side of the road. Alford had been driving.
Burts, trained in first aid, said the scene was surreal as paramedics arrived and tried to save his friends but there was nothing he could do.
“I couldn’t help them or do nothing for them, you know what I mean?” he said, recalling last August’s accident. “So, it made me feel kind of helpless at the same time even though I had the education to do it for them.”
Burts struggled with the loss of his two friends and the confounding fact that he miraculously survived.
It wasn’t until a couple weeks after the incident that he had lunch with the base’s command master chief and said he found a way to cope with the harsh reality of the tragic accident.
“He told me, ‘God put you here for a reason. You’re at a crossroads in your life and you just need to take the right path.’ ...
“So, ever since then, I just started looking at it like, ‘Hey, I’m here for a reason, I got a special purpose in my life and I’m just going to do the right thing.’”
The accident — as horrific as it was — changed his life for the better, Burts said. He used to live a faster, wilder life before the accident, but he takes things much slower now. He doesn’t go out much. If he does, it’s only if the firefighters with the 52nd Civil Engineer Squadron are going out as a group.
Shortly after the accident, he married his girlfriend, the mother of his child. Burts, who plans to separate from the Air Force in June and become a firefighter in his hometown of Birmingham, Ala., said his main focus in life is to be a good father and husband.
He said he actually got the best advice from Salazar’s mother, who told him the accident wasn’t his fault and to “live your life to the fullest.”