U.S. troops in Japan rescue man from fiery crash
Stars and Stripes August 29, 2009
MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — U.S. troops from Misawa say they were simply acting on instinct when they rushed toward a fiery car crash on a dark country road Aug. 15 to save an unconscious Japanese man.
"I was just doing what I would want someone to do for me if I was in that guy’s spot," said Senior Airman Thomas Sullivan, who works with the 35th Medical Support Squadron.
Sullivan, Airman 1st Class Justin Bunton, a firefighter, and Tech Sgt. Rory Stark, an explosive ordnance disposal specialist, braved the heat of the fire to carry the man to safety, according to base and Japanese officials.
They were part of a group of about 30 airmen returning from a trip on a base tour bus when they came upon what Sullivan first thought was a "big bonfire" next to some Japanese homes along the road.
When they realized that it was the scene of a car crash — and that there was a man lying on the road next to a car and garage engulfed in flames — they stopped the bus to help. About five or six other airmen — including Airman 1st Class Aaron Lauer, with the 35th Maintenance Operations Squadron — also ran from the bus to help.
Lauer said he looked to the others at the scene for guidance.
"I’ve got a firefighter, medical and EOD … you know I’m going to listen to everything they’re saying," Lauer said.
Bunton, the firefighter, was worried about trapped air in the car bumper impact cylinders exploding and whether the fire would also bring down the power lines.
They carried the man across the road and far enough away that "we couldn’t feel the heat anymore," Sullivan said.
Someone brought a cooler with ice and water from the bus, and a Japanese woman from a nearby home provided a blanket. The troops soaked the blanket and wrapped it around the man to cool him down before an ambulance arrived.
Lauer, Bunton and Sullivan all said they felt military training helped them react while others at the scene simply stood watching the fire.
"It was intense — everything was fast-paced," Lauer said.
They also said it felt good to help a Japanese citizen, especially given the recent string of off-base drunken driving incidents involving U.S. troops.
"We do good things over here, too," Lauer said.
Japanese police and fire officials said it appeared the man had swerved to avoid hitting a dog.
The car struck a power pole and skidded about 60 feet before hitting the garage and bursting into flames. They said the man got out of the car before falling unconscious on the road.
Officials declined to identify the man, but lauded the U.S. troops for their quick action.
"If he wasn’t moved away from the flame, he could have suffered burns that could have been life threatening," said Kenshin Kakizaki, of Towada fire department.
He said the man suffered only bruises from the crash.
Kakizaki said he plans to nominate those who helped for an award.