May 5, 2012, is the day 1st Lt. Jeremy Shields, a C-17 pilot assigned to the 729th Airlift Squadron, March Air Reserve Base, Calif., will never forget. Not because of the Cinco de Mayo celebrations, but because lives were saved, thanks to the training and quick teamwork of Shields, Lt. Col. Aaron Greenspan, flight surgeon, 932nd Medical Squadron, Capts. Kyle Johnson, 732d AS and Brent Gordon, 317th AS.
Here’s the first-hand account from Shields:
On Saturday, 5 May 2012, after securing the March Medical Strategic Intra-theater Deployment jet, I accompanied Greenspan, Johnson and Gordon to the 729th home-away-from-home restaurant in Dorrenbach, Germany. After leaving the Autobahn, at about 5 p.m., we turned onto the German Road 427/10 near Pirmansens, Germany. The two-lane highway lacks a center divider and has no posted speed, so people tend to go fast.
When we rounded the lazy corner, we caught the last glimpse of two cars spinning out of control, after engaging in a head-on collision.
Greenspan and I rushed to the first automobile, a Ford Focus hatchback. The airbags had deployed and the car was smoking heavily, although no fire was yet apparent. Greenspan and I moved toward the unconscious, female driver, whose head and shoulders were hanging slightly outside the window. After the flight doc did a quick assessment of her condition, he determined that she could be moved to a safer location where he could work on reviving her. As we were pulling her out of the left side window, I saw an infant car seat inside the rear passenger area of the vehicle. The car seat was overturned and there was debris all around, making it difficult to see it clearly.
Because of the concern for the infant victim, after we had the lady a safe distance away, Greenspan began working on her while I ran back to the car. I attempted to open the passenger side door, as the driver side bore the brunt of the impact and could not be opened. Despite multiple attempts, it was too obstructed to open.
As I passed back around the rear of the car I noticed the baby, approximately three months old, lying face-down, wedged in the rear window between the trunk and the rear deck. By then Greenspan had joined me. I kicked the remaining glass out of the back window with my foot. This allowed him to reach into the back of the car and remove the infant.
After a quick inspection of the listless baby boy, Greenspan handed him to me. I immediately moved the infant to a safe distance away from the vehicle. Once Greenspan was satisfied the situation at the first car was stable, he left me with the injured infant and went to assess the condition of the occupants in the second car. Thankfully, they were fine, despite a few cuts and bruises.
The infant’s mother, who had been revived, came to look at her son. She quickly snatched him from my arms, looked at him as if he was lifeless and tossed him approximately 10 feet into the grass alongside the road. As I ran to retrieve the baby, she collapsed. Because she didn’t speak English and I didn’t speak German, I could only assume she was in shock and had no idea what she had done.
Greenspan tendered more care to her while I took the infant to a car that had pulled over. I monitored the baby, providing basic first aid by using napkins to apply pressure to a head laceration. He also appeared to have multiple contusions and abrasions on his head. Over the next few minutes his cries became stronger and he was more responsive, both of which were positive signs.
As more local assistance arrived, I was satisfied it was safe to leave the baby with other bystanders and head back to the mother’s wrecked vehicle, which was still smoldering.
Fearful of the (still) running car bursting into flames, I worked to turn it off by removing the jammed key from the ignition. Once that situation had been defused, I moved to the passenger side and began salvaging what I could from the wrecked car.
Quickly grabbing some blankets and the mother’s diaper bag, I ran back to the baby to wrap him up like a burrito, in order to keep his extremities immobile. I needed to make him as still as possible in case he had unseen injuries. I sat quietly in the vehicle with him for about 10 minutes.
Later, the mother joined us, but I continued to hold the infant. In spite of the language barrier, I did my best at reassure her that the baby was okay and that we were waiting for the ambulance to arrive for continued care. I was not about to let her hold the baby because she could have still been in shock and attempt to toss the baby away again.
Shields, who has flown another mission to Germany since the accident, said he was told by Ramstein officials that the baby boy and his mother had been released from the hospital and that occupants of the second vehicle were not seriously injured, mostly due to the fact that they were driving a newer vehicle with current safety features, such as side-impact air bags.