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Airmen Save Elderly Couple during Flash Flood

LAS VEGAS -- Three Airmen from the 820th RED HORSE, assisted by three members of the 799th Air Base Squadron, saved an elderly couple during a flash flood Aug. 4 while they were on their way home from their work sites at Creech Air Force Base, Nevada.

Tech. Sgt. Adam Dixon, the first 820th RED HORSE responder, was one of the first to see the couple’s Toyota Prius stuck in the median after they had attempted to evade the rapid rising water by crossing over U.S. Route 95, north of Las Vegas.

“The water was flowing over the shoulder and cutting across the road, so people were backing up and crossing the median – which was actually lower than the interstate – so at that point we started seeing cars get stuck in the mud,” Dixon said. “Me and (Airmen 1st Class Joshua Parnell and Christopher Jones from the 799th ABS) first tried to push their car out of the mud, but it wasn’t budging. Within seconds the water went from being at boot level to waist level, so I knew we just needed to get them out of there at that point.”

As the water level picked up, so did the current’s force, which made opening and holding the car door for the elderly couple to escape extremely difficult.

“That’s when I saw Sergeant Dixon on the driver’s side yelling for them to get out, so I ran to that side to help him hold the door open,” said Staff Sgt. James Maxwell, the second 820th RED HORSE responder. “It was pretty intense because we could see another car floating towards us and we didn’t want to get pinned by it, so I know we were both pushing as hard as we could on that door.”

After getting the door open, the elderly man quickly exited the vehicle, but with each passing second the current grew even stronger and the man’s wife needed additional assistance exiting the vehicle.

“Sergeant Dixon got her close to me and I grabbed her and carried her up to higher ground,” said Airman 1st Class Christopher Fitzgerald, the third 820th RED HORSE responder. “It all happened so fast that I didn’t really think – it was just all reaction.”

After the elderly couple were safe on the embankment of the median, one rescuer that had been assisting the three RED HORSE members was swept away by the current, but was grabbed and pulled out of the water by Jones, as Parnell and Staff Sgt. Tye Warner, also with the 799th ABS, repositioned cars on the highway so that they would not be caught and swept into the median.

“I just saw an arm and a head flying down the water and was like, ‘I’m going to pull them out and hope I don’t fall in,’” Jones said. “It was the right thing to do.”

If the rescue took even a few more seconds, Dixon said the results could have been gravely different.

“Right after the couple got out, the car floated down the median, and seconds after that we saw it upside down,” Dixon said. “I’m just happy they were both okay, and I’d think that even if we weren’t there, somebody else would have gotten them out of there.”

The 820th RED HORSE commander, Col. Aaron Young, praised the rescuers for their efforts.

“I’m very proud of their heroic actions,” Young said. “They were in the right place at the right time and took swift, life-saving action. They are but a few of our many great American Airmen who demonstrate extraordinary instinct and initiative in times of need. It is an honor and privilege to lead and serve with Airmen like them.”

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