By Staff Sgt. Eric Hamilton
Special to the 129th Rescue Wing
MOFFETT FEDERAL AIRFIELD, Calif. (12/08/08) - Early Sunday morning on Dec. 7, Lt. Col. Jack O'Neill, commander of the 130th Rescue Squadron of the California Air National Guard's 129th Rescue Wing, was driving in his car from San Ramon, Calif., for the second day of the weekend drill at Moffett Federal Airfield.
At 5 a.m., he was just waking up, driving to what he thought would be another routine day at drill on Interstate 680 southbound, near Mission Boulevard in Milpitas. Suddenly, his attention was caught by his rear view mirror, where he watched as a large bread van had wandered off the right shoulder and head-on impacted the leading edge of an overpass guardrail.
"The van became airborne with an immediate 30-foot fireball explosion," Colonel O'Neill said. "I was taken aback by the size of the explosion .The van landed on the driver's side with the undercarriage on fire. I pulled over to the shoulder, called 911 and then began backing up to render assistance. I thought to myself ... Self-Aid Buddy Care training don't fail me now!"
A nearby semi-truck driver, "Matt," also saw the single-vehicle accident and had pulled over and was rendering assistance, Colonel O'Neill said. "Matt had yelled to the occupants to cover their faces, and had broken the windshield with his fire extinguisher. I became his wingman and assisted with opening the windshield to get the people out of the cab. We pulled one man and three women from the vehicle. We got them a safe distance and covered them with blankets that were pulled from the wreckage. Luckily, all of the individuals seemed to be okay."
Although Matt expended his fire extinguisher fighting the blaze, he was unable to put out the fire. The fire department, police and ambulance soon arrived and took control of the situation, carrying two of the victims to the hospital on backboards.
The rescuers were lucky, too: Both had bleeding cuts on their hands from shards of glass from the windshield, and Matt had some eye discomfort, but neither had major injuries, Colonel O'Neill said. "Matt did say he wished he'd put on gloves first."
Displaying the courtesy and humility Air Guardsmen prize, Colonel O'Neill thanked Matt for his quick thinking and heroic life-saving efforts. There was no way those accident victims could have gotten out of that van without assistance. Just starting his 12-hour workday, Matt had a long day ahead. "It was very satisfying to be Matt's wingman and help get four people out of a terrible situation," Colonel O'Neill said.
"I never thought I would say this, but I'm thankful for the SABC training we received in preparation for the ORI. It gave me the confidence to be proactive and get involved. Luckily today, I did not have to use any of that knowledge," Colonel O'Neill said.
"I think I will break out my AFMAN 10-100 for a little refresher training. I am also going to buy a few more fire extinguishers for my home and car, and keep a pair of gloves in the trunk. You never know when you might be needed to be a first-responder or wingman."