As plumes of smoke rose from the hood of a crumpled car, Sgt. 1st Class Daryl Khan knew he had to act fast.
A young man, apparently unconscious, was trapped inside.
Just minutes before the car became engulfed by intense flames, Khan, a combat engineer who has deployed to Afghanistan four times, hooked his arms under the man and dragged him to safety. Khan has been nominated to receive the prestigious Soldier's Medal for rescuing the man.
The medal is awarded to soldiers who demonstrate extraordinary heroism off the battlefield.
Trooper J. McDonald of the state Highway Patrol arrived to investigate after Khan had already left.
"It was a very serious collision," McDonald said. "The car he pulled the guy out of was destroyed."
The crash occurred Oct. 15, when a 25-year-old man traveling east on Roseland Road on the outskirts of Foxfire Village in Moore County, crossed the center line. He struck a vehicle traveling westbound.
The westbound car ran off the road, struck a fence and came to rest on the right shoulder, but the young man's car struck a fence, turned over and hit a tree.
The car came to rest on its passenger's side.
"If it wasn't for the soldier, he probably wouldn't have made it," McDonald said. "The good Lord was looking after the young man when he sent that soldier."
Khan, who humbly said he was just doing what was expected of him, said he couldn't imagine passing by.
"What if it had been someone I know?" Khan said. "I would hate to be in a position that, what if I wouldn't have stopped and I could have helped? What if he died because no one stopped?"
It's a feeling that's tugged at Khan since 9/11.
He traces the feeling of compelling to help to his Brooklyn upbringing — a combination of his parents' life lessons and the sight of the burning twin towers, he said.
What could he do to help? And that's a standard passionately broached to paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne Division, he said.
"My parents and the military instilled in me to care for others," said Khan, a combat engineer for the 307th Brigade Engineer Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division.
Command Sgt. Maj. Jerry Reid stumbled into a conversation about the wreck when he overheard Khan explaining to another soldier why he had been late to a company function. Reid said he was impressed with Khan's selfless reaction and nominated him to receive the Soldier's Medal.
"Sgt. 1st Class Khan is an outstanding leader, soldier and person who truly cares about his soldiers and sets the example for them with his actions," Reid said.
Khan passed by the wreck as he was driving home to pick up his wife and daughter before heading back to post for a company function.
He was stopped by a truck driver diverting traffic away from the crash. Up ahead, he saw the car on its side, with a plume of smoke rising from the hood.
Khan parked his truck on the side of the road and hopped out to investigate.
He saw the young driver had apparently tossed from one side of the car and was curled up against the passenger's side.
The man was not visibly injured, but unconscious. Khan watched the smoke rise and knew he had to make a decision quickly.
"I was about to climb in," he said.
Instead, another man joined Khan as they kicked the windshield. When they broke a hole that was big enough, Khan stretched his body through the broken glass, hooked his arms under the unconscious man and pulled him out.
Another person lifted the man's feet as they carried him away. A registered nurse who happened to be there began performing basic life-saving measures while they waited for an ambulance.
Khan walked back to the car to see if anyone else was trapped.
"When I went back, it was on fire," he said.
Even with bits of broken glass embedded in his hands, Khan asked what else he could do to help. A medic picked out some of the glass, and Khan went to direct traffic.
Minutes later, the car was in flames. A medical helicopter from Duke University Medical Center arrived to take the man for care.
Khan credits his Army training for his swift reaction.
"It didn't seem anything different than a training exercise," he said, modestly describing his actions. "They always put us in a stressful situation — they try to stress you out and you have to react. It's just what you do."