TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – Three Airmen from three different units on base were in the right place at the right time on June 16, 2021 in Dixon, California, when they arrived shortly after 5 p.m. at the scene of accident, saving a man’s life.
The road leading out of Travis AFB’s North Gate is a two-lane road that leads to Dixon, California. The road is surrounded by land dedicated to agriculture and has no street lights, resulting in low visibility.
While driving home from work later than usual, Tech. Sgt. Adam McDonough, 60th Maintenance Squadron electrical and environmental systems section chief, witnessed a car accident.
“There was a Toyota RAV4 driving south on Highway 113 and a Ford F-250 trying to make a turn westbound from 113 onto Hawkins Drive, and the F-250 just couldn’t get out of the way fast enough,” said McDonough, as he recounted the events leading to the accident.
The RAV4 struck the side of the F-250, crumpling up like an accordion. The driver of the RAV4 suffered an immediate amputation of his left arm, many broken bones, the engine was in his lap and his body was severely crushed into the steering wheel — he was trapped in the car.
McDonough’s instincts kicked in and he ran over to help. He saw the man in the RAV4, unresponsive, and assumed he passed, so he ran to assist the driver of the F-250. While providing aid, he heard screaming coming from the RAV4 and noticed a fire growing from the vehicle.
He ran to his truck to grab his fire extinguisher when he saw Tech. Sgt. Kelly Manibusan, 60th Healthcare Operations Squadron executive officer and medical technician, already tending to the flames.
Manibusan also left work later than usual and on her way home, saw the accident. With the RAV4 in flames, she quickly jumped in to assist.
“Once I got out of my car, another person and I were quick to pull the pin on an extinguisher and put out the flames,” Manibusan explained. “I assessed him and did as much aid as I could, but he didn’t respond to me because of a language barrier.”
Luckily for both the driver of the RAV4 and Manibusan, Tech. Sgt. Paola Fay, 60th Surgical Operations Squadron noncommissioned officer in charge of echocardiography and certified respiratory therapist for the heart, lung and vascular center, soon arrived at the accident while heading home from work. Fay speaks Spanish and was able to close the language gap, which allowed both Fay and Manibusan to continue rendering aid and prevent further injury.
Fay, trained for situations like this began going through her checklist.
“I asked his name, explained he had been in a crash, put him in position so his airways would be clear,” said Fay. “Then I just stayed with him and tried to keep him from losing consciousness.”
She then began looking for any signs of major blood loss and noticed there were no areas that needed immediate treatment despite the traumatic amputation of his left arm. Fay explained that sometimes with amputations, there can be no bleeding because cut blood vessels spasm, the cells shrink and pull back into the body.
As Fay continued going through her checklist for the driver of the RAV4, McDonough assisted her by pulling the sheet of glass off the front of the RAV4. The man’s head crashed through the windshield and his movements were making his injuries worse from all of the broken glass.
While Fay and McDonough assisted the man in the RAV4, Manibusan turned her attention to the driver of the F-250 by comforting him and staying with him until first responders arrived.
The three Airmen said the actions they took all happened without delay and were seamless like they had all been in this situation before — as it happens, they have.
McDonough was once part of a recovery team for a crashed aircraft. Fay and Manibusan have seen high-stress scenarios like this in the hospital, though in different sections.
Paramedics arrived about 20 minutes later. They put the driver of the RAV4 in a cervical spine collar, then used the jaws of life to remove him from the car and took him to the hospital where he recovered from his injuries, said the Airmen. California Highway Patrol Public Affairs confirmed that both parties survived the crash with serious injuries, and thanked the three Airmen who helped during the incident.
The three Airmen have a combined 45 years of service in the Air Force and without all of their training and diverse experiences, the outcome could’ve been different.
“Training kicked in for all three of us — every piece mattered, no matter how small,” Manibusan said. “While one of us was tending to a driver, another one of us tended to the fire, and another one of us tended to the other driver.”
The Airmen explained that a community of people helped with everything, including an unknown Airman who was directing traffic so the roads were clear for first responders when they arrived.
All three recounted that the events happened so quickly, it wasn’t until they each went their separate ways did they realize what each of them had done and experienced. Though the scene was hectic and chaotic, no one took charge; the Airmen all fell into the role where they were needed. They said there was a calm within the scene, and the community gathered around that intersection to help save the man’s life.
“As I left the scene, I began weeping — I cried in my wife’s arms when I got home,” said McDonough. “The next Sunday was Father’s Day and all I could think about was how that man was not going to be able to hold his kids or toss them in the air like I do with my young daughter — thankfully, he’s alive.”
Each Airman tracked each other down after rumors started circulating in each of their units of their efforts to save the RAV4 driver.
“We were each acknowledged differently within our units,” said Fay. “During a noncommissioned officer meeting in the office, one of my leaders shared the rumor they had heard, recognizing me, but I didn’t get out of my car and tend to the driver for recognition. It was the right thing to do because the Air Force teaches us to be better versions of ourselves, and I think when we’re put in high-stress situations like this, we evolve to handle these events.”
The Airmen weren’t expecting to tend to the scene of a car accident like this, but encouraged people who may find themselves in their shoes in the future to trust their training and instincts.
“I didn’t know until recently that he had survived until running into Sergeant Fay,” said Manibusan. “Now that I know that he survived … it’s a miracle, and it definitely teaches you to appreciate life a bit more.”