Air Force Captain, Staff Sergeant Permanently Disabled in 2023 Search and Rescue Tactical Vehicle Rollover

Airmen unload a search and rescue tactical vehicle
Airmen unload a search and rescue tactical vehicle (SRTV), July 12, 2019. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Kellen Kroening)

An Air Force captain and a staff sergeant were both permanently disabled in an all-terrain vehicle rollover crash while training in the Pacific last year, leaving one paralyzed and the other with an amputated leg, according to new details revealed in an accident investigation report.

The incident happened on Feb. 17, 2023, near North Field on Tinian in the Northern Mariana Islands when a male captain was driving a Side by Vehicle Search and Rescue Tactical Vehicle, or SRTV-SXV, with a female staff sergeant in the passenger seat. The captain, a Tactical Air Control Party officer, was there to participate in an exercise on the island, and the noncommissioned officer was with public affairs to document the event.

While traveling to a training exercise down a narrow, overgrown road, the vehicle went off the road into thick vegetation and began to roll. The two airmen "were not wearing seat belts or personal protective equipment," and they "were both ejected," according to the report, which was made public last week.

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The captain, assigned to the 25th Air Support Operations Squadron out of Wheeler Army Airfield in Hawaii, suffered serious injuries that caused permanent paralysis below his waist, according to the report.

The staff sergeant, who was with the 1st Combat Camera Squadron at Joint Base Charleston in South Carolina, "also sustained serious injuries to include a pelvic fracture and internal abdominal injuries, resulting in several corrective surgeries and an above-the-knee amputation," the report detailed.

    The staff sergeant told the accident board investigators that "she requested assistance with the harness buckle" from the captain, but the officer stated that because it was only a five-minute drive, they did not need to wear seat belts," according to the report.

    Additionally, the noncommissioned officer told investigators she had "developed a nervous feeling" about the speed the vehicle was going and "made multiple requests to [the driver] that he slow down," but that request wasn't acknowledged or responded to.

    A civilian notified security forces shortly after the crash happened, and several of them ran to the scene. One of those airmen was Senior Airman Ethan Embrey, a firefighter with the 35th Civil Engineer Squadron from Misawa Air Base in Japan, who was there on standby for the training exercise.

    U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Ethan Embrey
    U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Ethan Embrey, 35th Civil Engineer Squadron firefighter, poses in front of a Fire Engine at Misawa Air Base, Japan, Jan. 16, 2024. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Patrick Boyle)

    While in his truck, Embrey was approached by the civilian, who notified him of the crash. At first, the airman wasn't sure whether it was real or not.

    "Initially, I thought it was a part of the exercise," Embrey said in a press release honoring his heroism earlier this year. "But when she told me that it was real, I hopped out [of] the truck, grabbed my individual first-aid kit, and headed to the scene."

    Embrey said most of the first responders were paying attention to the captain, but he noticed something was off with the staff sergeant's injuries.

    "I saw something protruding from her boot; her bone broke through the skin on her ankle," Embrey said in the release. "I was getting ready to splint and package her leg when she said, 'My stomach hurts.' She already was expressing an altered mental status, so I knew something was wrong."

    Embrey said he also "saw a black spot on the right of her navel, which is the earliest sign of internal bleeding." He called the flight line and told officials to halt a plane that had just landed so she could be taken to Andersen Air Force Base on Guam for emergency medical treatment.

    The staff sergeant "was deemed most critical and was quickly moved to the flight line," the accident investigation board detailed, adding that she "was transported to Guam aboard a U.S. Air Force C-130 aircraft" and later taken to a Guam civilian hospital.

    Embrey later received the Senior Master Sergeant Robert A. McAllister Award for Firefighter Heroism for his quick thinking.

    The captain was transported to U.S. Naval Hospital Guam by a UH-60J helicopter for initial screening and later moved to the same civilian hospital on the island as the staff sergeant, Guam Regional Medical City.

    No blame was assigned in the crash, but the report pointed out that the staff sergeant had never ridden in a SRTV-SXV before. The captain had received "familiarization training" the day prior for roughly two hours, but it was not documented, the report detailed.

    The accident investigation report on the incident and the serious injuries come amid several fatal rollover incidents in the Air Force.

    Earlier this year, reported that the Air Force was temporarily reevaluating the way it trained with Humvees at its intercontinental nuclear missile bases located in the Midwestern states after two airmen died late last year.

    From 2019 to 2024, at least nine airmen have died in government-owned vehicles, according to data from the Air Force Safety Center.

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