HARB Airmen save woman from fiery car crash

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Paul Cook
  • 482nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs

In the dark hours before sunrise on Sept. 10, Tech. Sgt. Lionel Castellano, Public Affairs Specialist, was driving to the 482nd Fighter Wing’s unit training assembly at Homestead Air Reserve Base, Florida, when the unexpected happened.

“I was driving south on State Road 874 and a car accident happened in front of me,” said Castellano as he recounted the events that happened that early Saturday morning. “I stopped my car and ran back to the accident to help; the engine was on fire. The fire spread quickly from the engine compartment into the cabin while we were still trying to get her out of the car.”

According to Castellano, a large piece of equipment had fallen off a trailer and hit a sedan traveling behind it. The collision caused the car to crash into a divider barricade.

As he reached the car fire, two other people were trying to break the window of the car. The group worked together, found a way to break the glass, and tried to get the female driver out.

“The fire was spreading quickly, and I realized that the front passenger portion of the cabin was now burning,” Castellano said.

Realizing that the possibility of severe injury was imminent, he reached into the front seat, bear-hugged the woman, and pulled her out.

“I felt kind of stupid because I tripped as I pulled her out of the car, fell on my back and she fell on top of me,” said Castellano. “I got up and another person helped me carry her away from the fire. I looked up and noticed the person helping me was also wearing a U.S. Air Force uniform.”

Also driving to HARB that morning was Senior Airman Randy Rodriguez, 70th Aerial Port Squadron Aerial Porter. 

“It’s ironic, I probably wouldn’t have seen the accident had I not made a wrong turn and was running late,” said Rodriguez. “When I reached the accident there were a couple of people trying to break out a window to get the woman out of the car, I grabbed a baseball bat and ran towards the accident.”

As Rodriguez reached the car, the group of good Samaritans had broken the window and were trying to get the woman out.

“The fire spread very fast, it was in the cabin when we were trying to get her out,” Rodriguez said. “We first laid her on the ground next to the car but then sergeant Castellano and I picked her up and moved her to a safe distance from the fire.”

The car was fully engulfed while Castellano and Rodriguez rendered aid to the victim staying with her until Miami-Dade County Fire Rescue personnel arrived at the scene.

“The firefighters said that if we hadn’t stopped, the woman would have probably died,” Rodriguez said. “I’m just glad I was able to hopefully give her another day with her family.”

“I’m very proud of these Citizen Airman,” said Col. David Castaneda, 482nd FW Commander. “Our troops are well trained, empowered, and innovative; they can handle anything.”