Three airmen help save life after witnessing wreck
KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa — Three airmen — in the right place at the right time with the right know-how — helped save a Japanese woman seriously injured in an auto accident Wednesday.
They were stopped at a traffic light in Okinawa City when a car going sideways with screeching wheels careened through the intersection trying to navigate a 90-degree right-hand turn. It fishtailed three times before ramming a guardrail that sliced through the car, peeling back the passenger door where the woman sat.
“It came around the corner pretty fast,” recalled Staff Sgt. Michael Maroney, a pararescueman with Kadena’s 353rd Special Operations Group.
“If they had been going a little bit faster, she would have been decapitated from the blunt trauma to the guardrail,” added Maroney, who said he saw the woman’s head whiplash out the window.
Tech. Sgt. Frank Hill immediately jumped out of the truck Maroney was driving and ran to the crash. “I knew it was bad,” said Hill, an MC-130H flight engineer also with the 353rd SOG.
The impact was like going from 60 to zero in no time, he added. “That car was going about as fast as those spinning tires would let it go sideways. There was a lot of energy and momentum.”
When he got to the car, Hill said, the Japanese driver was shaking the unconscious woman, who was bleeding from the mouth. Not knowing Japanese, Hill said he grabbed the driver, looked him in the eye and motioned not to move the woman, who he feared might have serious internal or spinal injuries.
The dashboard had been pushed inward, pinning the woman, whose arm and clothing were sandwiched along with the door and guardrail. “She came very close to having her arm ripped from her torso, and her head would have been the next thing to go,” Hill said.
In slicing through the car, the guardrail caught the woman’s clothing and cinched it around her neck, constricting her breathing, Hill said. Everything was such a tangled mess, it was impossible to free her, he added.
Maroney, a nationally registered paramedic, had his medical rucksack with him and pulled out a pair of specialized trauma scissors strong enough to cut through metal.
He passed them to Capt. Christian Lichter, who had climbed inside the car through the driver’s door. The woman’s face began turning blue and purple from lack of oxygen as Lichter worked to cut the clothes.
Lichter, an aircraft commander with the 353rd SOG, said the clothing was so bunched up it was similar to cutting through rope.
Hill said a group of men from a nearby car lot brought a jack to pull the car off the guardrail. “But, nah, it wasn’t going anywhere. It was impaled,” he said.
By the time Japanese police and paramedics arrived on the scene 10 to 15 minutes later, the woman’s pulse had stopped, said Maroney. “The longer we were there, the weaker she got.”
An ambulance crew put the woman on oxygen but couldn’t move her until Japanese firemen arrived with the Jaws of Life to cut the vehicle away from the guardrail. The process took so long, Maroney feared the woman was going to die.
She never regained consciousness during the ordeal, though her color and pulse came back when she was liberated from the twisted metal.
As a pararescueman, Maroney has had to provide all types of medical treatment to servicemembers in fairly remote locations under austere conditions. He just returned from a paramedic course in New Orleans, where he saw some pretty severe accidents with cars flipped over, people ejected and cars completely mangled. “But I’ve never seen one where the car and the victim become one with the guardrail.”
The airmen said they felt as if it was providential they were at the crash scene at that point.
“We were meant to be there. God wanted us there,” said Maroney. “If you’re going to have an accident, you might as well have a paramedic around.”
Hill said he visited Chubu Hospital on Thursday to check on the woman, who was still in intensive care, where she remained Friday as well.