'I thought she was going to be burned alive' - Mildenhall airman honoured for heroic actions pulling two people from blazing cars after crash
PUBLISHED: 11:29 14 March 2016 | UPDATED: 11:29 14 March 2016
A heroic airman has told the "terrifying" story of how he saved two seriously injured people from being burned alive in their crashed cars on a rural Suffolk road.
The engineer from RAF Mildenhall was driving to work on a night shift when he came across a three-car crash, and without thinking rushed to help.
On Friday, Staff Sergeant Vicente Gomez, US Air Force 100th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron crew chief, was honoured with the Airman’s Medal for his “heroic and courageous” actions at a medal ceremony.
Vicente was driving to work at around 9.40pm when he turned into Eriswell Road, in Holywell Row, and saw the mangled and burning wreckage of two cars. The third car had run off the road.
As the smoke billowed from the wreckage he sprinted to the nearest car, a Citroen, to try and assist in any way he could.
“My body was overcome with adrenaline,” Vicente recalled. “Once I reached the wreck and saw that the driver was stuck inside the car, I went into panic mode.
“His car was on fire and spreading quickly. I grabbed him from his waist and pulled with everything I had, but his legs were pinned beneath the dashboard. Every time I pulled, I felt like I was breaking bones and it seemed almost impossible to get him out.”
Vicente, a father of two young children, relentlessly tried to pry the man in his 30s from the wreckage as the fire took hold.
“The heat was so intense, but I still had time to try to get him out,” he said. “And I wasn’t going to give up on him.
“The driver was conscious enough to where, together, he and I were able to get his legs unpinned. Once free, I was able to pull him out of the car through his door window.”
While he dragged the victim away the car filled with flames. “I was overcome with relief thinking that it was all over and that I could rest, but then I saw the other car,” he said.
“I don’t know how I missed it; I think that I just blocked it from my vision when I was struggling to get the man out of the first car.”
Not knowing if the other victim of the crash had got out of the BMW, Vicente ran back and was left horrified as he realised a woman in her 20s was still trapped inside.
He said: “I was terrified. I didn’t know if I was going to be able to get her out because I was so exhausted, but I still had to try.”
He hurried to the driver-side door and attempted to pry it open, but it was jammed closed and her window had been rolled up. Noticing the passenger door appeared to be unlocked he quickly made his way over to open it.
“I got in and grabbed her waist in an attempt to pull her, but her legs were pinned under the dashboard in the same way the man’s were,” he said. “I began to pull her sideways, but she started screaming in excruciating pain, so I stopped instantly.
“It honestly crossed my mind that I was going to watch this women burn alive in her car if I didn’t get help.”
At this point the driver of the third car, a Subaru that had come off the road into a ditch came rushing to help after managing to free himself.
Vicente and the crash victim began to work together trying to free the woman before time ran out and managed to unpin the her legs and pull her through the back door.
“I was so thankful that he showed up when he did because I know without him I would have never gotten her out of that car,” added Vicente.
The two trapped drivers were rushed to hospital after the ambulances arrived, with the woman and man both treated for serious leg injuries. The police and firefighters also attended the crash, which happened on May 12 2014, but the cars were completely engulfed in flames before they were extinguished.
Vicente had the Airman’s Medal pinned to his chest by the commander RAF Mildenhall, Colonel Thomas Torkleson, on Friday last week.
Were you one of the crash victims? Email firstname.lastname@example.org if you wish to pass on your thanks to Staff Sgt Vicente Gomez