Airman Saves Woman After Fiery Crash
HOUSTON -- One moment can change someone's life.
One such decisive moment came for Staff Sgt. Mitchell Corbin and Nancy Decker June 1, when Corbin pulled Decker from her fiery, wrecked vehicle.
That morning, Corbin, an aerospace ground equipment technician with the Texas Air National Guard 147th Reconnaissance Wing, was on his way to the airport and Decker was headed to her daughter's wedding.
Corbin approached a toll plaza on Sam Houston Parkway, near Wayside, Texas, when he noticed Decker's overturned vehicle and flames emerging from its engine compartment. He then heard the screams of a bystander, alerting others that a woman was in the vehicle, he said.
His military training kicked in and without hesitation Corbin was already making his way towards the ablaze vehicle.
"I was going to put out the fire and hoped that it'd be as simple as that," Corbin said.
However, onlookers were unable to quickly obtain a fire extinguisher, so Corbin had to figure out a way to evacuate Decker from the blaze.
"I had to analyze the car and see how I would get her out," he said.
He tried opening the door, but the door was locked. Corbin found the front passenger window cracked enough to slide his arm in to unlock the door, but was unsuccessful.
"I knew that none of the doors were opening and I didn't have any tools to pry them, so I knew I had to break the window," he said.
Another onlooker retrieved a C-clamp and after a few strikes, the rear passenger window shattered. Corbin reached in, but the door still wouldn't open.
"I realized it would come to a last-case scenario," he said -- he would have to break the front window and risk glass falling on Decker.
Suddenly, an onlooker handed Corbin the needed fire extinguisher. Corbin stood atop the vehicle and began swinging the extinguisher at the window until the glass folded in. By that time, the fire had tripled in size and the added oxygen increased the smoke and heat billowing from the engine compartment, he said.
Looking into the vehicle, Corbin said he saw Decker out of her seatbelt and sitting Indian style on the driver side, able to communicate.
"I told her that I was there to help and I needed her to lift her hands for me to help her," he said. "I tried to lift her up the first time and I realized I wasn't coordinated enough to lift her up and balance myself at the same time, to get her out safely with all the broken glass around her."
Taking note of another onlooker ready to help, Corbin called him over to help pull out Decker.
"It's like a dream," Decker said. "I don't remember any of it. I felt someone pulling me and I heard a soft voice say, 'watch out for the glass.'"
Corbin carried Decker a few yards away and used skills he learned during Air Force self-aid buddy care training. The training gives Airmen the basic lifesaving skills to sustain injured individuals until medical care is available.
"I started using training I received to get her to not go into shock or go unconscious," Corbin said. "We elevated her feet, shaded her, got a cold compress on top of her head, kept calling her name and had her squeeze our fingers to remain awake.
"She was fading in and out, but ultimately stayed with us," he said.
The hectic rescue took only minutes. As soon as paramedics arrived, Corbin said he returned to his vehicle and continued down the tollway. For days following the wreck, no one was able to identify the good samaritan who rescued Decker -- no fanfare, pomp or circumstance.
Corbin said he stopped at a gas station about a mile away to clean his scrapes, hydrate and make phone calls.
"I called my girlfriend and mom and told them that if they happen to see me on top of a burning car, to not worry, that I'm OK and I'll be making my flight soon," he said.
In regards to recognition, "it didn't go through my head too much," he said, acknowledging that he wasn't the only helper.
Decker said she walked away from the wreck with only a concussion and a broken heel.
"I admire and respect the military and their training," she said. "There were other people there who did not know what to do -- but he did."
Decker said she is very thankful to her rescuer.
"His training helped, but it was his heart that made him stop to help me," she said. "He's my guardian angel. He saved my life, but he didn't go back and boast to anybody."